With Easter behind us, spring showers falling and several grandstand concert acts at the New York State Fair having been announced, local Fair fanatics are getting started thinking about what’s coming up for their favorite annual event. Changes are under way on the fairgrounds including some that will be easy to spot.
Renovation of Restaurant Row continues with the demolition of the adjoining Gepetto’s and PZO’s stands. One large restaurant, to be run by PZO’s owner David Pizio, will be constructed on the site, near the Coliseum, complementing the snazzy new Danny D’s stand built last year.
Gepetto’s owner Carmen Davoli, meanwhile, will move down to the former site of the 1812 Ale House, near the Youth Building, and change its name to Cahoots Saloon.
“We will continue the Western theme with a cowboy burger, a prime rib sandwich and a smoked turkey sandwich,” Davoli said. “We’re excited about the move because it’s a new stand and Gepetto’s was a tough building to work out of. It should have been taken down years ago.” In keeping with the identities of both Gepetto’s and 1812, the new joint will stock an impressive selection of beers.
Cahoots and its neighbors may experience a boost in customer traffic as a new concert series lights up the Talent Showcase stage. “Good entertainment is one of the keys to drawing people to the Fair,” explained assistant director Troy Waffner. “It adds value to the fairgoer, which is extremely important right now.” Regional and tribute bands will play evening shows during five to seven of the Fair’s 12 days on the stage, which is at the western end of the grounds. Talent competitions will continue there during daylight hours.
A new pavedbrick patio, similar to those added last year to flank Chevrolet Court, is going in just outside the International Building, across from the State Park area. “We found that the two patio areas we put in on each side of Chevy Court last year were extremely well-received,” Waffner said.
Decorating improvements are under way inside the Heroes and Legends Café in the Center of Progress Building as vendors respond to a Request for Proposals (RFP) to operate it after the contract with MSK Corp., a trio of local partners who had operated it since 1992, was not extended. “Right at the end of September I got a letter that said they were not going to extend the agreement again,” said Baldwinsville businessman Mike Chemotti, one of the owners of MSK. “The contract was done and we had 10 days to remove all our belongings per the agreement.”
Chemotti said that State Fair director Dan O’Hara provided no explanation of how food services would be provided in the building for the numerous off-season events held on the grounds, but vending has since been done on an event-by-event basis. “He said that was Albany’s problem and he didn’t know what they were going to do. “Chemotti reported. “It didn’t make sense to me that they were going to close the restaurant and have temporary food service set up in the building for all these events.”
Chemotti and his partners were further frustrated by the lack of awarding of a contract even after a bidding process in December. As the busy season on the fairgrounds approaches, no vendor contract is in place. “Our plan is to put out an RFP for an operator,” Waffner said. “There are a lot of factors that go into that when you read those. The vast majority is how much are we getting as a percentage, but also it’s what’s the menu, what are the prices, how do you deal with customer complaints, everything in that process as well as the experience and history of the people which also plays a large part.”
Waffner is acting as spokesman for the Fair in the absence of a public relations director after the recent departure of Frederic Pierce. “From what Fred told me, an opportunity to be director of public relations at SUNY Cortland opened up and he applied for the job,” Waffner noted. “I think he’ll do very well in that. Fred taught at SU and he’s always had an interest in higher education and he thought it would be a neat job to try out.”
Another personnel matter to be resolved before opening day 2011 is the hiring of a Fair announcer after the death of longtime voiceof-the-Fair Bob Gibbons on Dec. 16. “You can never replace Bob Gibbons,” Waffner conceded. “That’s one of the many things as we gear up for the Fair—we’re 125 days out right now—who do you find to be the next voice of the Fair? Or what combination? Do you bring in just one person or a couple of people? How do you break it up? Those are things we’re looking at. Bob had such a history out here. He just knew the Fair so well.
Part of it is just trying to figure out what he did. He knew what to do and he did it all.”
Fair fans are also wondering what changes may come as the result of the election of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his appointment of Darrel Aubertine as commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets, which oversees operation of the Fair. O’Hara was appointed in 2007 by Eliot Spitzer and stayed on through David Paterson’s administration, but no announcement has been made regarding whether he will continue in the job, which serves at the pleasure of the governor.
With several more dates to fill at the grandstand as well as a full slate of Chevrolet Court concerts, there’s plenty of news to come from the State Fair.
The voice of the Fair: Replacing golden-throated Bob Gibbons (photographed here in 2010) as the friendly announcer at the State Fair will be more difficult than asking for strawberry moo juice at the Rainbow Milk Bar.