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For vendors and visitors alike, fair concludes on high note

The photo shoot inside the Old Tyme Photos stand at the Erie County Fair on Sunday lasted no more than 10 minutes. Kristen Gould donned a red sleeveless gown and held a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and a sash of stolen money. Her husband, Matthew Radder, wore a cowboy hat and slung a rifle over his shoulder. Their daughter Madelyn, 5, flashed a crooked smirk when photographer Mick Loyd asked for everyone to look serious.

"I love that facial expression," said Loyd, clicking a digital camera.

Radder and Gould loved it, too.

They plunked down $65 for an array of photographs featuring the family as gun-slinging bandits at an old Western bar. Radder joked that the photos were so entertaining he could probably sell them to other family members. "It's worth it," said Radder. "I'm still laughing at the first one."

It was the first time Loyd and his business partner, Mike Cobb, participated as vendors at the Erie County Fair. Business was good and they plan to be back. "It's definitely one of the bigger fairgrounds we've been to," said Loyd, of Gatlinburg, Tenn. "This fair is ran very well. It's one of the cleanest fairgrounds we've been to. And there's no ruckus here. It's just a good family friendly fair. They got it right in here."

The 178th fair concluded Sunday with picture perfect weather — a stark contrast to the July 21 tornado that ripped through the fairgrounds, causing major damage to the grandstand roof area. The damage was repaired before the Aug. 9 fair start.

A fair representative said final attendance was 1,193,279, second only to 2014's record of  1,220,101.

Some visitors arrived on the final day for the demolition derby, the largest of its kind in the country and an annual fair highlight, featuring crunched metal, steaming radiators and burnt rubber.

"It's my first one and it's freakin' awesome," Jamie Dukat of Kenmore said between sips of beer. "Next year, I'm looking for a car. I think it's cool. I didn't realize how durable cars are."

Other vendors also reported brisk business. Harlan Hanson of Hanson's Kettle Corn described the 2017 fair as "on the high side of my average," even though he's now competing against four other kettle corn poppers instead of one, as when he first started at the fair 18 years ago.

"I can't explain it. I'm just grateful that it sells the way it does," said Hanson, of Butler County, Pa.

At the caricature tent, newly engaged couple Mike Mac and Lindsay Maza walked away smiling at the colorful portrait Jimmy Barber drew in less than 20 minutes.

"It's awesome," said Mac. "I've wanted it for a couple years. She finally committed." Maza had been holding out until a proposal. "I told him once you put a ring on it I would do a caricature," she said.

Maza and Mac have been coming to the fair together for years, usually in search of ribbon fries, Chiavetta's chicken and kettle corn.

"Those are your bare essentials," said Mac.

Barber of Kansas City, Mo., has sketched caricatures since he was a teenager. "In high school, I used to draw my teachers and that sort of thing. Luckily, they didn't see most of  'em," he said. This year's fair, said Barber, has been "pretty steady, pretty solid. We haven't been overwhelmed, but it's been very steady."

Weidner's Steak and Chicken was having a great fair year — until a fire ravaged its building Saturday night. The popular stand, a fixture at the fair since 1956, was wrapped with a chain-link fence and white tarp Sunday, as crews unloaded bottles of water salvaged from inside.

"It was surreal to see it go up last night, and it was surreal to see it this morning," said Ryan Gerber, son of owners Charles and Mary Gerber. "We're not sure exactly what happened, but it's looking like an electrical problem. That, combined with grease and you're not going to stop that train."

Erie County Fair's Kiddieland evacuated, closed after fire breaks out in food booth

Gerber said the stand had two of its best days ever during this year's fair. The building is probably a totally loss, he said. But a Weidner's stand will return to the fair in the future.

"We'll be back, better than ever. You can mark our words," he said.

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