WOODSTOCK – It’s not exactly an amusement ride, but the exhibitors’ buildings at the McHenry County Fair offer a swarm of activity all their own.
The approximately 70 booths display a hodgepodge of causes from marketing local business to bee education to T-shirt sales. As in previous years, area businesses and organizations packed the two exhibitors’ buildings to grab the attention of grazing fair-goers.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to be recognized,” said Denise Reilly, who works in the fair’s office. “You have a lot of local people that come through here.”
This year, the exhibitor list includes names like the Northern Illinois Beekeepers Association, Treasure Box Toy Rental, Mercy Health Systems, McHenry Clock Co. and Chiro One Wellness Centers, among many others.
Local businesses like Jones Country Meats use their time at the fair as advertising.
Lora Scholer, owner of Jones, said she spends substantially all week behind her exhibitor’s table talking to people about the business’ services and promoting specials.
She said the fair creates an easy way to access a lot of people in a small amount of time. And the face-to-face interaction is a perk other forms of marketing don’t offer.
“A lot of it is education,” she said. “We pass out coupons to come in.”
Other exhibitors aren’t so much setting the table for future sales as looking to go home with a profit.
Russ Gerard, of Roscoe, has been visiting the same schedule of fairs for about 25 years.
Gerard sells T-shirts imprinted with animals at a handful of area fairs each year.
“We started off many years ago so we could go to Canada fishing,” he said.
The T-shirts sold well in the early going, and Gerard said he used to go home with “a shoebox full of 20s.” Business has been slower recently.
“You go to the fair next week, there will be three to four people selling the same shirt,” he said. “The competition is too great.”
Selling shirts has become only part of the reason Gerard comes to the fair.
He sees the same people each year, and every fair becomes its own little reunion.
“Some of them, they’re just friends now,” he said. “It’s good to see them.”
Kevin McCloud of Harvard has been coming to the McHenry County Fair since he was a kid. Now with kids of his own, McCloud stepped into an exhibitors’ building Thursday afternoon with his family.
At the Mercy Health Systems exhibit, McCloud’s kids spun the wheel set up to educate kids on health topics. The wheel contained categories like “about your body” and “nutrition,” which in turn led to a trivia question on the given topic.
McCloud said the exhibitors’ buildings are a welcome change of pace from the rest of the fair.
“(We) check out the local products and businesses, see what they’re showing off,” he said.
Others had a simpler reason for browsing the exhibits.
“Our grandchildren are going through the ducks and the geese,” said Gary Spice, of Woodstock, Thursday as he stood inside the exhibitors’ building with his wife, Laura. “It’s cooler in here.”