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A fair not so fair

Peninsula fair-goers, vendors brave wicked weather

Posted: August 21, 2011 - 8:00am
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Photo by M. Scott Moon
Josiah Martin pedals his unicycle Friday afternoon past Patty and Walter Bertsch’s “Once Upon a Bottle” booth at the Kenai Peninsula Fair. Numerous vendors are selling everything from donkey-themed shirts to Christmas ornaments.

It was the worst weather even the most seasoned of vendors and fair-goers could remember.

Friday kicked off the Kenai Peninsula Fair with a bang, although not the bang most were looking for - harsh winds, frigid rain, and chilly temperatures descended upon the first day of the festival. Tents flapped violently, and often collapsed, in the face of the gusts. Vendor merchandise blew off tables or otherwise became water-logged when the tarps proved little match for the wind-blown rain.

"I found my tent on the other side (of the path) early this morning," said Walter Bertch, pointing across from where his booth was stationed on the fairgrounds.

This is Bertch's first year at the fair. He's been selling his wares - decorative wind chimes constructed from empty wine bottles, bracelets made from old silverware, and charms fashioned from broken china - at various craft events around the Peninsula for about a year and a half. His wife is in charge of the artwork, and Bertch is responsible for the mechanics of the crafts.

As of 2 p.m. Friday, Bertch hadn't sold a thing. When asked if he would return to the fair next year, he couldn't really say for sure.

"I don't know right now," he said, glancing out at the puddle-laden path devoid of potential customers. "They say this is the worst one they've ever done. I talked to people who have done it for 18 years, and they say this is the worst one."

Georgia Soliz hunkered down under a white tarp, which also somewhat shielded the dresses she was trying to sell. This is Soliz's third fair.

"We have a big storm blowing through, so people want to stay home in their jammies," she said. "It's rough out here."

Most of the people - and there weren't many - milling about the fairgrounds Friday were either vendors, volunteers, or otherwise associated with the festival in some capacity. Carly McLean and Lee Martin, though, were just two friends up from Homer who decided to brave the elements to partake in the tradition.

"It was either today or never," Martin said while spooning cherry-cheesecake ice cream out of a waffle cone, pointing out that he would be too busy Saturday and Sunday to attend the fair.

"She fishes with her dad," he said, gesturing at McLean, "and I fish, so we're kind of used to the weather."

The Owens family got wrangled into coming all the way down from Nikiski for every day of the fair, regardless of the weather, because 9-year-old Tyle Owens and 7-year-old Whitney Owens are both involved in 4-H activities.

Tyle showed the turkey he raised since March, named Sombrero, on Friday, while his sister Whitney showed her chicken Cotton. Sombrero will be auctioned off tomorrow and butchered, but Cotton is really more of a family pet.

"They had to do their showmanship indoors because of the rain," their mother Simone Owens said. "Normally they do it out in the arena, but this year, because it was such lousy weather, they had to do it inside."

That was basically the name of the game Friday: adaptation. Charlene Paight, vendor and owner of the Frances~Rose Gift Shop in Ninilchik, arrived in the morning to find much of her jewelry and craftwork blown across the ground. So, she collected some rocks and used them to weigh down the display trays.

"You know, outdoor shows are not my favorite," Paight admitted, "but this is my hometown, so we support our community. Even if the weather is crappy, the people are great."

Paight has lived in Ninilchik long enough to know that just because Friday was a bust, the weekend is not lost.

"One thing about Ninilchik," she said, "is that if you don't like the weather, hang out a little bit and it'll change."

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