Making history at the Erie County Fair

March 5, 2014 Updated Mar 5, 2014 at 9:04 AM EDT

By Elizabeth Carey

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March 5, 2014 Updated Mar 5, 2014 at 9:04 AM EDT


The Erie County Fair will celebrate its 175th anniversary this summer. Meanwhile, its midway operator is also reaching a milestone.

James E. Strates Shows, which handles the midway at the fair, just completed its 90th year in business and will celebrate its anniversary this summer.

Strates Shows is the only railroad carnival in the country. Hundreds of employees travel the U.S. for a seven-month season, handling about 18-22 shows.

The Erie County Fair was the first show that James E. Strates signed back in 1923. Now the founder's grandchildren are running the business.

Director of finance and administration Jay Strates says a lot has changed over the years as the operation transitioned from side shows to modern rides, games and concessions, "I think the electronic ticketing system allowed us to bring the carnival midway into modern times, allowing us to do internet event sales improve customer service."

Strates says the electronic system shows what time tickets were purchased and which rides are most popular. "A lot of people don't think about it. When you sell paper tickets or a wrist band, you have no way of tracking and you can't tell what your customers are doing."

Last year, Strates set a record with largest single day midway sales in the Erie County Fair's history.

The midway got a facelift recently and now Strates is upgrading technology and becoming more energy efficient. "We've got LED lighting that's become popular on the midway," said James Strates, director of operations. "It gives you a huge amount of control as far as a pattern and aesthetics of the midway."

Plus, Strates says, that LED lighting only takes about 10 percent of the power that traditional bulbs would require.

The Erie County Fair is also constructing a new building on the fairgrounds, so fairgoers will notice some changes this summer.

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