Jul 25, 2014

Impact of Town Fair's New Location Uncertain

After 15 town fairs held in Perry Hall, a rebranded event is planned for July 14 in Middle River.

Impact of Town Fair's New Location Uncertain

Location, location, location.

Volunteers are just days away from discovering how a Middle River zip code will impact attendance at the , known in past years as the .

"It's just three miles away from Perry Hall—just three miles," said Lynn Richardson, president of the Perry Hall/White Marsh Business Association and the fair's head organizer. "I tell people in Perry Hall that it's not about taking anything away from them. It's about sharing the event with more communities."

But it's not just the geography that's changing this year. Fair organizers have also removed both Perry Hall and White Marsh from the fair's official name. Richardson said the name change—advertised on the website, posters and even a billboard—was part of an effort to increase the fair's regional appeal.

Richardson first in January that the 2012 fair would be held on . The newly built shopping center is located along White Marsh Boulevard (MD Route 43) in Middle River, bordering an area known as White Marsh's commercial district.

The new fairgrounds, however, came as a shock to many past attendees. All previous fairs—15 total—have been held at Perry Hall venues, including , and .

Several Perry Hall Patch readers—on the Patch website, as well as its Facebook page—threatened to boycott the fair, while others complained that the fair had lost touch with its small town roots.

One commenter, listed as Eric Martin, wrote in January: "If it's in Middle River, or anywhere other than a Perry Hall venue, I'll skip it. Hope those who made this awful decision have a good time by themselves."

But Richardson recently told Patch that threats of boycotts and poor attendance have lost their sting over the past six months.

The fair has sold out its vendor space, around 200 spots, and retained many of the same Perry Hall businesses that had previously participated.

With expanded regional advertising and easy access to the new location from White Marsh Boulevard and Interstate 95, attendance may actually exceed last year's record-breaking crowd of more than 13,000, Richardson said.

It was last year's heavy crowds that contributed to conflict surrounding the 2011 fair at . Parking and other property pitted fair volunteers against shopping center managers. After holding the fair at the center in 2010 and 2011, Richardson said organizers no longer felt welcome.

Previously, the fair was ousted from its home at Perry Hall High School in 2009 due to a controversial , known as Rule 1300. It banned third-party use of school system property, meaning that groups and organization could not rent table space to vendors.

After a to the rule in August 2011 allowed a to return to Perry Hall High, some the Perry Hall/White Marsh Town Fair follow suit.

Richardson, however, said issues with parking and school regulations would have prevented basic fair attractions like a petting zoo and moon bounce. It was then that the planning committee turned to the new .

"They have been fabulous to work with. They have bent over backwards for us. There is going to be plenty of easy parking and space," Richardson said.

, who was involved in planning the first town fair at —initially known as the Perry Hall Town Fair—said he plans to support this year's event.

"I would have preferred a location in the heart of Perry Hall, but I understand the obstacles. I strongly encourage everyone to go and support these volunteers," Marks said. "It's still an opportunity to support many great Perry Hall causes and businesses."

Barbara Dingedahl, a longtime Perry Hall resident and fair attendee, said that after months of discussing the new location with family and friends, she believes the community should give the new fairgrounds a try.

"I went online to look at the set-up and it looks really nice," Dingedahl said. "I don't think people should boycott something before they've even given it a chance."

While Beth Olcott, another longtime Perry Hall resident, isn't encouraging others to skip the fair, she has no plans to attend on Saturday.

"What I liked about the Perry Hall Town Fair was you actually saw your neighbors. You saw people you hadn't seen in years. I don't know how many people from the Perry Hall area are even going to go," Olcott said.

Olcott said that seeing advertisements for this year's fair without Perry Hall or White Marsh in the name has been a jarring experience. She added that she believes either Perry Hall High School or remain ideal locations for the fairs.

"I understand that there are school and county regulations. Honestly, I blame the Perry Hall merchants who don't want it here. The Middle River merchants do. It's not Middle River's fault that we gave the fair to them," she added.

How do you think the town fair's location change from Perry Hall to Middle River will impact attendance? Are you planning to attend? Tell us in the comments.

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