“We had more online tickets sold than ever. People were making their reservations in advance,” said Faire Manager Cyndi Benitez. “We didn’t get much traffic Saturday (in the snow and rain), but we had just as many campers as ever and people staying the whole weekend.”
Benitez said over 400 vendors were registered, along with people bartering by hauling goods along the straw-strewn lanes by wagon. The site has a total of 600 large vending spaces. “
“People were setting up vending spaces beyond the inner trading circle, in the camp spots also,” said Benitez.
An event this large takes a lot of hands to help it flow smoothly, and 500 volunteer passes were given out before the faire started, and another 400 during the faire. A staff of 60 coordinators fill needed roles such as keeper of the gatehouse, security, parking attendants, people placing vendors, watering roads, coordinating both stages and a kitchen coordinator for preparing and serving three meals a day to volunteers.
Along with old traditions, the faire grounds saw some new additions this year, with a large storage shed at the volunteer kitchen turned into a walk-in refrigerator with a col bot air conditioner, two new generators and a 1979 Ford Pickup purchased for staff to cruise the site.
“We are slowly improving our infrastructure,” said Benitez, “but hopefully we still made enough to give back to the community in grants and scholarships.”
The Okanogan Family Faire gives out $5,000 in scholarships and another $25,000 in grants each year.
“In the past we’ve given out $35,000 or $40,000, but the last few years have been tight years,” said Benitez, “due to coming out of recession and then the big wild fire scares in 2015; people were either scared off coming or couldn’t because they had lost their homes. But I think we are seeing it swing back up now.”
Recipients of grants in recent years include the Laura Fraley-Wilson School of Dance, Tonasket Choice High School, Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus, Columbiana, the Okanogan Highlands Alliance and Green Okanogan Recycling Center.
“We gave Green Okanogan $10,000 to help them purchase the site they are on, and we gave to the Okanogan School District in the past, too,” said Benitez. “It’s exciting.”
Benitez said she was also excited about the Spring Faire coming up.
“We lost the Garlic Festival the CCC (Community Cultural Center) used to put on and the Chamber of Commerce said they weren’t prepared to take it over, so we might pick up that event also,” said Benitez. “The we would be a three-event organization, with spring, summer and fall events.”