Everyone has character faults. I am no exception. Supposedly, being a “worrier” is in the Main family DNA. Maybe that is why there are no relatives remaining from my father’s lineage. They must have worried themselves into an early exit.
The seasonal ending of “Fair Week” has brought forth a new worry for me: the future of The Delaware County Fair and The Little Brown Jug. What was once a premier event that previously caused near gridlock in our town has become a near non-occurrence.
The 2015 Little Brown Jug marked the 70th anniversary. Where were the banners and marching bands denoting this milestone? Did anyone notice this was a monumental anniversary?
There were few if any traffic jams last week. The Delaware County Fairgrounds parking lot still had space available. Spotting license plates from Kentucky, Ontario, New Jersey, New York and other horse-loving venues was a rarity in comparison to past fairs. The flood of out-of-town guests seemed just a trickle . I can only imagine how ongoing dwindling attendance and loss of revenue have impacted our community.
A crowd of 46,721 witnessed the 2015 Little Brown Jug, an increase over 2014’s attendance of 44,101, on a day that also enjoyed perfect weather. Is it my faulty memory of crowds that neared 80,000 or more in past decades?
Wiggle It Jiggleit and 24-year-old driver Montrell Teague claimed the 2015 Little Brown Jug in by-a-nose victory, defeating Lost for Words and local favorite David Miller. Wiggle It Jiggleit claims the distinction of being not just the 70th victor, but also the first Jug winner with a black driver, owner and trainer. Considering that I have seen few African-Americans in attendance at past Little Brown Jugs, the Teague family win was a historic milestone.
What was once Delaware’s identity seems to be vanishing. Many blame off-track betting at casinos — that was to bolster the state’s economy — as a rationale for lower Jug attendance. Others have mentioned the declining interest in both sulky and thoroughbred racing by younger generations. Knowledgeable harness racing enthusiasts cite the rigors and complexities of a three-heat elimination which determines the Jug entrants, in conjunction with the crumbling infrastructure of the Delaware County Fairgrounds.
This waning interest was reflected in the older and smaller Wednesday post-Jugette crowd that exited from the grandstands, as I waited to enter the Delaware County Bank party. The DCB event also had lower attendance than in past years, despite perfect evening weather.
Post-party, I went in search of my favorite fair food. The pepperoni rolls had returned to their normal spot across from the pony ride, but the fried pork loin vendor was absent for a second year. When asked about his whereabouts, the pepperoni roll maker lamented that the pork loin vendor “could not make enough money to keep returning with the high fair rent.”
Thursday evening, downtown Delaware — after the Little Brown Jug — was surprisingly calm. The crowds were marginal at a few restaurants, while other “watering holes” were either sparsely populated or closed. The years of noisy post-race fans invading Sandusky Street restaurants and bars seem to be just a memory.
I lament about finding solutions for bringing back the crowds and local enthusiasm for the Delaware County Fair and the Little Brown. All involve money and the oversight of city and county leaders. A few random thoughts:
1) Hosting the horse parade the day the fair begins versus a week before opening day. The horse parade could serve as the “kick-off” to boost local attendance and bring families to the fairgrounds after the event.
After the parade, the fair could open with a ceremony and as a family event where children would see the horses “up close and personal,” versus viewing them from a distance in a parade. Also, it would gather families together at the fairgrounds to mingle, planned events for children, and discounted prices for the rides, all to bring a sense of “community” back to the fair.
2) More banners, movable message signs or a permanent ticker-tape streamer sign on The Delaware Gazette downtown building to publicize fair events, entertainment, livestock winners and race victors. The ticker-tape streamer sign could be used 24/7 to flash news items, upcoming local activities and sports headlines, or weather emergencies during non-Delaware County Fair months.
3) Add more downtown activities during fair week to lure visitors to that area of Delaware versus just driving to and from the fairgrounds. Ohio Machine matches succeed at enticing attendees to downtown Delaware; why not the fair?
4) Initiating a “preservation campaign” for saving and renovating the deteriorating grandstands, bathrooms and other Delaware County Fairgrounds structures and restoring attendance to prior figures. The loss of the Little Brown Jug would be a historical debacle for this city and county.
5) And finally, how about enticing the pork loin sandwich seller to return by lowering the rent for vendors? I miss those guilty-pleasure sandwiches.
Mariann Main is a Delaware native and journalism graduate of The Ohio State University. She has a master’s degree in counseling from Georgia State University, and is licensed as a counselor in both Ohio and Georgia. She can be reached at MariannMain@gmail.com.