Friday, October 25, 2013

A 95 Year Tradition of Food and Fun at The Ephrata Street Fair, Ephrata, PA

Is that grease on the napkins?  You bet.  As one of the Akron (PA) Lions
used to advertise while tending the sizzling spuds:  "Crisp and mellow,
golden yellow, golly but they're good!"
         Begin one of my blog posts with a food photo?  Yes, if it's a dinner you can eat for only five days of the year.  During those days at the end of September, parts of Ephrata's Main and State streets are closed to host the largest street fair in the state of Pennsylvania.
         Crowds gather and walk the streets to find scores of food kiosks, games of chance, and both kiddie and adult thrill rides.  Several blocks away in the town park the agricultural tent houses livestock to show and sell, as well as canned goods to be judged.
         Now, about that special meal . . .  You can buy all the sausage sandwiches, barbecue and funnel cakes you can eat but none of it compares with the Akron Lions crispy fries and their signature sandwich—the toasted cheese burger.   Many decades ago the Lions sold grilled cheese sandwiches and hamburgers separately.  One day at the stand a bold Lion decided to pop a juicy burger inside his grilled cheese sandwich and, voila!, a delicacy was born.  Now the Lions sell upwards of 15,000 of these sandwiches at the fair every year, and they bring home ~$50,000 in profits for their charitable organization.  My father has been a proud Akron Lion for 54 years and, for many of those years, he worked the stand on its busiest nights.  When my dad sold sandwiches he picked up the tab for my annual toasted cheeseburger habit.
       You can still line up at the "Queen of the Midway" and order either a plain burger or a grilled cheese sandwich but, with those toasted cheese burgers staring you in the face, why would you?

Scores of people wait in line at the Akron Lions Stand for a chance to
sink their teeth (man at bottom right) into one of those tasty
toasted cheese sandwiches.

The Merry-go-Round attracts the younger crowd and their
parents on a stellar autumn evening.

         While the tradition of fine food at the Akron Lions stand will continue, another long-standing tradition at the Ephrata Fair is coming to an end.  For the past 42 years Walt and Joan Dembroski have been traveling from Florida to bring their "Fat Albert" wheel-of-chance game to the fair.  I played the game for 25 cents when I was in high school—back when Walt and Joan were young.  Now in their 70's Walt and Joan announced this would be their final year at the fair.  Huge crowds lined their stand every night, everyone plopping down their 50 cents, (or three tries for a dollar) for their chance to win a prize.

A piece of cheese is placed in each cup under the board's colors.
Walt places Fat Albert the rat in the cup at the center of the wheel
and gives the wheel a spin.  Which color will the rat run into?
On this spin it looks as though Fat Albert is heading for light yellow.

Another game of chance next to the Funnel Cakes.
Shoot a bullseye and take home one of these stuffed animals.

Crowds fill the midway on Friday night at the fair.

Sheldon's Gallery and Store welcomes fair-goers to Ephrata's Main Street.

         The Ephrata fair begins on a Tuesday night.  The Ephrata parade, filled with floats, marching bands, baton twirlers and more is the unofficial Wednesday evening kick-off for the festivities.
         Readers, did the town you grew up in have its own annual fair, farm show or carnival?  Do you have fond memories of special foods, exhibits, games or rides?
         Learn more about the Ephrata Fair by visiting their website:


  1. Hi Rita,

    Well, I was momentarily confused while trying to make a connection between the fair’s Pennsylvania location and Akron, Ohio. But, quicky realized that Pennsylvania also has a city named Akron. Regardless, the Ephrata Street Fair certainly sounds like a fun event worth attending!

    Here in northern NH, nearly every little village and town has similar events. They are all terrific, and it would be tough to single out one as a favorite. It’s very uplifting to know that such events are still enjoyed by folks all across America.


  2. Hi John,

    Yes, I should have made it clear that the small town of Akron is also in PA, is only a couple miles away from the larger town of Ephrata!

    I'm happy to hear that the tradition of small town festivals continues in New Hampshire as well—these events are irreplaceable examples of small-town Americana.

    Thanks as always for reading regularly and for commenting!

  3. Hi Rita,

    What a great trip down memory lane this post was! My little town in the midst of NH has an annual summer fair to benefit the hospital. Over the years, it's raised life-saving equipment and funded a new wing. More important, like the Ephrata Fair, it was a centerpiece of childhood, teen and adult memories and community for generations. It continues to this day (though everything looks a bit smaller than I remember from childhood). I loved hearing about your dad's service at the food stand and seeing all the photos - what a great tribute to your dad and the fun these fairs provide!

  4. Hi Vickie,

    Great to hear from you!
    I'm happy to hear that your small NH town has a similar annual festival. These events really help to foster a sense of community and to build lasting memories.
    Thanks for commenting!