By KIRSTEN RENEAU
The Exponent Telegram
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Fairs and festivals have been popular for several decades in West Virginia, some now approaching their 100-year anniversary. These events are able to bring communities together, while promoting family-friendly entertainment and agriculture, the root of many festivals in the state.
Events are great for tourism throughout West Virginia and help boost local economies,” said Gavin Ward, vice president of the West Virginia Association of Fairs and Festivals, which helps fairs and festivals make connections and provide marketing tools, in addition to several other services.
“A lot of events are held in downtown areas, and some of the local businesses really benefit by crowds coming downtown. Those can be some of their best business days. And when you start with local businesses, they take that money and support, say, local grocery stores, and it trickles down,” Ward said.
“People will travel from all over to come to FestivALL or the Strawberry Festival,” Ward said. “They’re staying your hotels, eating at restaurants and bringing in outside money. You’re causing a boom for your town the weekend you have that event.”
He added that while it can also affect future tourism as well, it’s opening up visitors ‘eyes to the businesses that are in the area.
“Later on, they’ll check out the store down the road,” Ward said. “It shows people that a business even exists.”
He said that, while he wasn’t completely sure on why fairs and festivals were so popular throughout the state, he believes it may have something to do with the rural nature of West Virginia, because “back in the day, it was a long haul to get from the Jackson County Fair to the Lewis County Fair.”
“And a lot of it started as agriculturally based, where you show off your products and livestock,” Ward said.
Another important part of fairs and festivals throughout the state is that they can serve as a reunion for many residents.
“It’s big — not only for local economy or because it exposes people to different businesses, but it brings people together. People come and see people they haven’t seen in years,” Ward said. “It’s a kind of social tool. It stimulates the economy, and gives people something to do together.”
The State Fair of West Virginia, which will start on Thursday, not only is an economic boost to the area, but also showcases various parts of the state, CEO Kelly Collins said.
“As the State Fair of West Virginia, it is our job to celebrate this state and what it has to offer. From livestock exhibits and harness racing, to the best pie in the state and the largest pumpkin, every single exhibit is a showcase of our state,” she said. “It is also a chance for commercial exhibitors, state agencies and civic groups to get out and meet the public.”
Collins pointed out that each fair and festival, no matter how big or small, is important to their respective areas.
“West Virginia is also a great example of community, and you can tell in the pride that the volunteers, organizers and participants show in each event,” Collins said. “Put aside the importance of each event culturally, they are also a huge economic boost for the state. Hotels are full, gas stations are packed and each of us send a considerable amount of sales tax back to the state!”
One event dedicated to bringing together community and culture, from both near and far, is the Italian Heritage Festival in Clarksburg, said Tyler Terango, festival board chairman.
“Having fairs and festivals are extremely important because it showcases the culture and history of that area,” Terango said. “Obviously in the Clarksburg area, being very prominent with Italian ancestry, our festival can showcase that. It brings people back home to the state, and reconnects them with family and friends and the West Virginia community.”
Officials expect to see around 70,000 people at the 39th festival throughout the weekend event, which will be from Sept. 1-3.
“One of the big things I don’t think some people know is that all 39 years, we’ve provided free entertainment to the public,” Terango said. “It’s something we take great pride in. It’s not easy, and it’s something that is done through the help of sponsors and friends of the festival and the community as a whole that makes that possible.”
He believes having free community events are extra important due to the state of West Virginia at this point in time.
“With the opioid epidemic, having things that are free that people can go out and take part in, it helps people see the fun in life and see what great things can be done in the community,” Terango said. “I think we need more of that even, giving people the chance to volunteer and be apart of a bigger organization.”
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