Fair’s local economic impact fair for some

Last weekend, the population of South Whidbey briefly swelled as Island County fairgoers brought their families and their money to the area.

For the most part, however, the money the up to 25,000 fair attendees had in their wallets seemed to stay at the Langley fairgrounds and did not filter into nearby businesses.

Judging from a sample of Langley, Freeland and Clinton businesses, the Island County Fair had a wide range of impact. One gained sales, one lost sales, and the other two businesses had weeks no different than any other.

But for one long-time restaurant owner, the impact of the fair — rather the lack thereof — did not come as a surprise.

“The bottom line is we don’t increase (business) as a result of the fair,” said Archie Garabyan, part owner of Cafe Langley in Langley.

Garabyan has owned the First Street restaurant for about 16 years and has never seen an increase in business during the fair. But, to be fair, he said that since the fair occurs during the summer — his busiest season — it’s hard to keep track of small increases in business. He said it is possible that the rain that fell last weekend might have drawn some fairgoers to the restaurant.

Nearby, another Langley business was able to make a few dollars off the influx of fairgoers. Liz VanDyke, owner of North Star Limited — a clothing and apparel store — said that on Aug. 22, the last day of the fair, business increased 30 percent from its normal summer rate. Her First Street store is located about a mile from the fairgrounds entrance.

Outside of Langley, business was actually down during the fair. In Clinton, Ace Leather Goods manager Gretchen Olde said sales dropped 50 percent during the four day fair. Ace, which is located on Highway 525 near the Clinton ferry dock, sells tack equipment and a variety of leather items, including horse saddles, leather purses and wallets.

Explaining the drop in sales, Olde said people traveled quickly through Clinton on the way to the fair and did not seem to notice Ace Leather. It was so bad that in conversation with the owner of a neighboring business Olde wondered why her business stays open during the fair weekend.

Olde said she has a good idea of where the money not spent at her business goes She took her youngest daughter, 10-year-old Sydney, and one of Sydney’s friends to the fair for a half day and spent between $100 and $150 on admission, rides, food and games.

Local residents save all year just to go to the fair, she said. When the fair opens, she said, they go for up to three days and spend all the money they saved.

Another business that provides fair-related clothes and gear, Webb’s Department Store in Freeland, fared better during the fair.

Owner Tricia Webb said business at their store stayed neutral during the fair.

Most people who stopped at the store on their way to the fair, were just buying a couple last minute things, such as Wrangler jeans and tack equipment, she said.

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