May 4, 2016

Intermittent clouds

An expensive summer


Staff Writer

MEDINA — It’s not easy working the Ohio fair circuit these days. Diesel fuel, delivery charges, rising propane and oil prices. Everyone has been affected by high gas prices — right down to fairgoers.

“It’s all a cycle from the high gas prices,” said Rick Kilgore, who owns a food booth called Bloomin’ Tasty Taters with his wife, Terresa. “And it all comes down to the little guy.”

Trucks that pull food booths on trailers require diesel fuel, which is currently more than $4 a gallon. Donald Zsigary said it cost him $120 to haul his prime rib stand one-way from Knox County to Medina, about a two-hour drive, a huge expense considering Zsigary vends at about seven fairs every summer.

Vendors have to haul their food supplies in box trucks, and Rick said the money he spends on gas has doubled in recent years.

The largest price hike has been for cooking oil, which some vendors said is linked to increased ethanol production. Rick said a “skid” — 35 pounds — of oil used to cost him $600, but now the price has doubled to $1,200. The Kilgores go through two skids of oil per summer.

Propane used to run deep fryers, ovens and other cooking equipment within the food booths has risen by about 30 percent, Rick said. A 100-pound tank of propane costs $100, and the Kilgores go through four to six tanks per week because they run their fryers about 12 or 14 hours every day.

“Everyone has had to raise their prices to cover gas and propane,” Terresa said.

The high cost of propane, cooking oil, diesel fuel and other materials makes it difficult for food vendors like Terresa Kilgore of Lexington, Ohio, to make up for the extra expenses without raising their prices. And the higher prices have made fairgoers more selective in their purchases, according to vendors. Ride operators are not immune. The cost of running the rides has nearly doubled, said Karen Bates, who runs Bates Brothers Amusement Co. (Andrew Dolph | Staff Photographer)

In order to make up for the extra expense, most vendors have had to raise the price their customers pay without making extra profit for themselves. And many vendors said raising their prices has made fairgoers more frugal and selective in their purchases.

“I think they are picking and choosing where they’re going to go,” Terresa said. “They’d go to all of them before.”

All the food vendors interviewed noted a substantial increase in the price of food, especially cheese, meat and potatoes.

“When I went out to buy products I was really shocked,” said Dan Lewanski, who operates a stand that sells corn dogs and chicken nuggets. “In my 23 years, this is the highest I’ve ever seen prices.”

Companies that supply food in bulk also have been hurt by the climb in gas prices, and now must charge vendors a delivery fee to make up for the cost. Rick and Terresa have to pay up to a $22 delivery surcharge to some food suppliers.

The cost of running the rides at the fair has nearly doubled, said Karen Bates, who runs Bates Brothers Amusement Co. The semi trucks that carry rides run on diesel fuel, but perhaps more importantly, the rides are powered by two generators that also need diesel fuel.

“This year we anticipate a $100,000 increase above and beyond what we normally spend,” Bates said.

Because of this, Bates said sometimes they shut down the rides early to save money.

“If it’s a rainy day, we might close early,” Bates said. “But before we might stay open until 11.”

Hlavinka may be reached at 330-721-4048 or