80-year-old Stowe fire department street fair showing its age

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For the first time in decades, no parade accompanied Stowe fire department's annual street fair this year. The fair has been held -- with a parade -- since the 1930s.

Attendance at the fair also is dwindling, and the size of the event is shrinking as costs rise.

Total profit from this year's fair, held July 10-14, is estimated at $4,000 to $5,000, less than half what it raised three years ago.

Stowe Fire Marshal Marty Jacobs says declining population in Stowe and neighboring McKees Rocks and the increasingly transient nature of the towns account for the lower attendance. Mr. Jacobs has been fair chairman for 47 years; before that, his father, Hyman Jacobs, had the job.

The street fair started more than 80 years ago as a fundraiser for the West Park volunteer firefighters and an event for residents of the two communities.

It is now operated by the Stowe Township Volunteer Fire Department, because of the merger of Stowe's West Park and Flemming Park departments last year.

"It kills us that we didn't have a parade," Mr. Jacobs said. It used to be "the biggest thing down the pike" and "used to last three to four hours, no exaggeration," he said.

Cost of the parade in 2011 was $2,700, even though it was much shorter than in previous years, Mr. Jacobs said. Residents last year complained because it was too short; this year, complaints are coming in because it wasn't held at all, he said.

"If we had held the parade this year, we would have lost money," Mr. Jacobs said. "We're a volunteer group; we can't be a cash cow."

It also has become more difficult to attract parade participants.

Fire departments are unable to afford to bring their trucks; bands and majorette groups are becoming smaller and are unable to afford the cost of travel, he said.

"We're sorry we didn't have the parade this year. It was pure economics."

The size of the festival and overall attendance has shrunk in recent years. That means less money for the fire department.

This year's estimated $4,000-$5,000 profit compares with $10,000-$12,000 profit three years ago and about $20,000 five years ago.

In 2008, gross income from amusement rides was $24,000 for the five-evening event. That's $19,000 more than this year's total and does not include the expenses.

Ride-all-night wrist bands were sold for $12 per person; individual tickets cost $2 a ride.

The fair had five rides, four game booths and two concession stands. In addition, the fire department had its own food concession and bingo tent.

On July 14 -- Saturday historically has been the busiest night of the fair -- just 45 ride bands were sold. In years past, that number was 300 to 400.

"What is that telling you?" Mr. Jacobs said. "There's nobody there."


Sonja Reis, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. First Published July 26, 2012 9:00 AM


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