As warm weather began in Baraboo, a number of people learned that COVID-19 would take away a summer pastime, the fairs that provide one-of-a-kind food options, like deep fried dough dubbed funnel cake or large corn dogs on a stick.
Not to be deterred by the cancellations, two local food stand owners decided to provide area residents with fair food, minus the fair.
“All of our fairs got cancelled, so we don’t really have an option other than to stay local and set up locally,” said Gary Shepard of G&G Concessions.
He and his wife, Cheryl, have been selling fair food for 33 years, Cheryl said. Their company set up a Greek food stand and a funnel cake booth along South Boulevard near Sysco headquarters.
When they knew selling locally was their best option to make money this summer, Gary said they began to search around the city for a good location. They settled on the vacant lot because of its proximity to water, power and a heavily driven street.
Mike Weland, of North Freedom, started out with his hot dog stand on Commerce Street. They moved to Reedsburg for about a week, but he found his current spot roughly a week ago in the Blain’s Farm & Fleet in Baraboo. A lease through the company will allow them to stay there, selling jumbo corn dogs, a variety of hot dogs and french fries, until early October, he said.
Business tends to depend on the weather, “but it’s been pretty decent,” Weland said.
Talking to customers from behind a polyglass divider Saturday, Marilyn Weland, of North Freedom, served food as she remarked on how glad people have been to access their concessions.
“People have been so appreciative,” Marilyn said. “They’re glad to be able to get their fair food.”
While the revenue from staying local may not replace the amount of money they make at fairs throughout the summer, both Shepard and Mike Weland said some revenue is better than none.
“It’s nice you’re bringing something in instead of spending your money,” Weland said. “It’s helping pay some of the bills. It’s also giving people the chance to find some of those fair foods you can’t find other places.”
And insurance costs still have to be paid, even if expenses of travel have been lessened through the new method of business.
Both receive their main source of income from the food stands. Weland said he was essentially “born into the business” and Shepard has been operating the booths for more than three decades.
Despite the out of place fair booths, flags flying in the wind and bright colors advertising lemonade and chicken in a pita, people have been receptive to lining up each day the stands are open.
“We’ve had really positive comments,” Shepard said. “They’re glad that we’re here. They’re just really positive about us being in town.”
They haven’t given up on the possibility of serving food at fairs in 2020. Weland said a few festivals are still scheduled. Most Labor Days fairs are still scheduled for the time being, Shepard said, adding that he plans to drive to Milwaukee for an upcoming drive-thru Wisconsin State Fair for two weeks.
They didn’t just dwell on the impact of vendors in the wake of coronavirus cancellations. Weland said the cancellations provide uncertainty for fairs in the future when they lose money. Shepard said young people were let down when they learned the 4-H project they had been focusing on for nearly a year would not be highlighted.
“It’s changed a lot of people’s lives, it really has,” Shepard said.
Both are hopeful COVID-19 won’t impact the fair schedule in 2021.
“Well, we can only hope to predict the future,” Weland said, laughing. “But we hope everything is good by then.”
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