December 03, 2021

'It's a sad time': Vendors and area residents missing this year's Sandwich Fair

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Mike Mooney Jr. attended his first Sandwich Fair 50 years ago when he was just 6 months old.

Now, a fourth-generation taffy maker and the owner and operator of Malone’s Candy Company in Byram, Miss., Mooney, like countless others, will miss this year’s fair, which has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s really destroyed me,” Mooney said. “And not only monetarily, but emotionally. I was out there when I was 6 months old and it just hurts. I can’t put it into words. You can’t do what you want to do. I can’t do what I was born into doing. It’s hard to handle, but we’re tough people and used to adversity. We’ll be back next year, God willing.”

Mooney said he’s thankful to have very loyal customers in and around Sandwich, many who are generational customers, whom he hopes to see in about a year. The 133rd Sandwich Fair is scheduled for Sept. 8-12, 2021.

“We’re very blessed to have loyal customers that come back every year,” he said. “Literally generational customers, and that’s something as a business owner you appreciate that they remember who you are. Not only do they come back willingly, but they come back and demand that quality, that taste in taffy. Sometimes you step back and it takes your breath away. It’s special to be able to put a smile on somebody’s face and their kid’s face and their kid’s children’s face, etc., etc. We’re going to miss that.”

Although the Sandwich Fair Association board of directors made the decision months ago to cancel this year’s fair due to the pandemic, it’s really hitting home this week that there isn’t a fair this weekend now like there has been seemingly forever.

Remember, the Sandwich Fair is something that’s been happening every year since the ’80s. And not the big hair, parachute pants and neon of the 1980s, but the 1880s, around the time Thomas Edison worked on the incandescent electric light bulb. A year without a Sandwich Fair is truly unprecedented.

“Even with the flu epidemic and the Depression and the wars, we still had a fair,” said Joan Hardekopf, a Sandwich historian who doesn’t think she’s missed a Fair in her 79 years, until now. “It’s like a homecoming. A lot of people take this time of the year to come back, and some travel really far, so this impacts lots and lots of people. I’ve noticed this week especially that people don’t want to let go of the idea of a fair and they’re having personal home parties, and there are some food things going on, and this weekend the Sandwich Historical Society is selling memorabilia.”

Not many things are a given in life. The Sandwich Fair has been one. Consider that the fair already was thirty-something when the beloved, late Olaf Gjovik was born. The local auto dealership giant passed away earlier this year at 98.

“It’s really hard with as many years as the Sandwich Fair has happened to see it not happening,” said Geri Benning, executive director of the Sandwich Area Chamber of Commerce. “People come from all over to attend the event so it’s been hard for a lot of businesses. They’ve looked for creative ways to celebrate the fair even though the fair isn’t happening, so they’re having food trucks and stuff like that, which is good for the community and businesses. But it’s a sad time. Everyone understands why it’s not happening, which is good, but it’s a sad time. But hopefully, moving forward things will be a bit different.”

Last year, despite some weather challenges, more than 161,000 people attended. That included Maddie Robinson and her boyfriend, Bruce Wachowski.

“My boyfriend had gone to the State Fair before, so I told him about the Sandwich Fair,” she said. “He thought no big deal, but was blown away by it. He never thought a town this small could have something this large. It was exciting to go around and show him everything. I think he was more disappointed to not go than I was. This was going to be his third year going. We’re bummed.”

Robinson said she’d normally skip her college courses for the day on Friday and be in town by 11 a.m., ready for a weekend at the fair. This year, she’ll stay at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais and reminisce.

“It’s the first year I’m not going, so I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing,” she said. “I love the fair and love coming home for it. The traffic is crazy, but I love it. I love seeing our small little town and watching everyone come in and out of the fair. It’s such a good time.”