Every year, thousands come to the Erie County Fair for, food, fun, and friends, but behind the scenes, it takes hundreds of people to make the magic of the fair come alive.
Many of the workers who set up the fair work with the James E. Strates Shows and live outside New York state. They start working on fairs in the South and work their way up the east coast. Traveling from April until November, they live in trailers close to the fairs they set up.
“I have my wife and my kids and they travel with me everywhere I go,” said concession worker Pal Fontana.
Fontana has been working in the fair business for more than 50 years. Originally from Maryland, he says that with each town he visits, he leaves with a new friend.
“People will come out and I’ll see their grandchildren and you get to know people. When they unloaded the train, did you see all those people? The man down there that’s 60years old was probably there once with his grandfather when he was young. There’s some pretty unique stories out there,” Fontana said.
Fontana lives in Florida and has worked as an independent concession worker at the Erie County Fair for almost 10 years now. He says over the years, the people of Western New York have become like family.
“They’re very nice people. They had a tornado come through one time and I wasn’t here but I called and checked on everyone I knew in town and asked how they were doing. It’s pretty cool how you make friends along the way,” Fontana said.
Sam Strohauer also lives in Florida and has worked with the fair for 15 years. Hailing from Western New York, he says he’s excited each time he puts together the rides at the fair he went to as a child.
“It’s a good feeling. It feels great when you see everything all up and ready to go before opening,” Strohauer said.