Charlotte, Florida - It was Super Bowl Sunday, the final day of the Charlotte County Fair and the second anniversary of Zoet Sweet Boutique, the Punta Gorda ice cream shop that dipped into a spot on the midway at the behest of its 4H constituency.
Back at the brick-and-mortar shop on 17 and Bermont Road, the kids who participated in the fair’s agricultural show are regular customers. They talked the owners, Sharon Hooijkass and her husband, Jordy Buemer, into setting up an ice cream stand the fair, which opened Jan. 26.
"Every day, they came over," Sharon said. "We bought one of the hogs as well to support them."
By all accounts, this year’s Charlotte County Fair was not a record-breaking event. John Mahshie, the Charlotte County Fair Association treasurer, called it average. Three vendors at the fair for the first time -- all local -- gave it similar reviews.
Weather was a factor. After a terrific first Saturday on Jan. 27, rain came on Sunday evening and hit some vendors hard. A jewelry vendor’s tents collapsed and the vendor had to pack up and leave. A longtime vendor of T-shirts and bric-a-brac grew impatient and fled.
Ruth and Roger Rowe, the Englewood couple who brought Tire Critters to the fair for the first time, had to scramble as Sunday’s rain damaged some of their wares. Roger Rowe hand carves recycled tires into animals and paints them.
Another first-timer, Port Charlotte resident Laurie Sprague, said sales of her Hillbilly Kettle Korn were slow all week, although she said that first Saturday went gangbusters before the rain and some cooler weather dampened attendance.
Mashie refused to blame the weather.
"We had a nice week," he said, standing at the top of the midway as fairgoers strolled past, enjoying a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon.
He called the fair "just average" and estimated the overall draw would fall into the 30,000 range.
"Another 10 would be nice," he said. "But they’re coming in steady, and we always have a good Sunday. It’s a gorgeous day; we should have a phenomenal day.
"After doing this 30 years, I don’t know what the answers are. They come or they don’t come. We play it by ear, and we hope that they come, but we’re not unhappy by any means. We think we put on a nice event, and we can only hope the folks come, they enjoy it, and come back the next year."
Sprague was philosophical.
"The rain hurt," she said, "but it went pretty good."
Ruth Rowe of Tire Critters said that "people loved them. There were a lot of pictures. We sold some."
Two of their tents broke in the rain, and "some critters took a fall. There was some damage to the critters. We had a big mess, so I brought a hose around and spent a day washing critters."
The Rowes plan to continue to bring their critters to Placida and the weekend art show at the Charlotte County Fairgrounds. The art show, held at the same venue as the fair, is a distinct event.
"We met a lot of friends here," Ruth said.
Sharon saw the experience in terms of growing in the community.
"I always like to support the community," she said. "It’s not always about making a lot of money. It’s about getting your name out there, and this helps get our name out."
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