Since before he can remember, Mark Piche has traveled across the country to attend various fairs large and small, setting up stalls to sell food to hungry visitors. However, 2020 was the first time in nearly six decades that he was forced to quit and he felt lost.
Piche, who celebrated his 62nd birthday on Tuesday, operates four stalls under the Piche’s Concessions banner. Since taking over from his father 10 years ago, he has only attended the biggest and most prestigious state fairs. Of the six, West Springfield’s The Big E is one of the best, Piche told MassLive.
The Big E is the penultimate fair of the year. Piche informed MassLive that in his opinion state fairs haven’t drastically increased attendance, with one exception.
“Delaware was amazing,” recalls Piche, from Ware, Massachusetts. “But it was early in the season and people were dying to go out [due to the COVID restrictions lifting]. So I think it has a lot to do with their coming to this fair. In Wisconsin, attendance is down a bit compared to 2019. New York is more of a disaster, but only New York.
The New York State Fair saw less than half of the average daily attendance from previous years and according to Piche, 75 salespeople did not show up.
Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the state, the fair has for the first time gone from a 13-day opening to an 18-day affair. The New York Fair recorded a total attendance of 798,095 visitors this year. In 2019, the fair attracted 1.3 million people in 13 days.
Canceling the fairs in 2020 meant losing some $ 4.67 billion in economic activity based on 2019 figures, according to Calico from the International Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.
This year, however, The Big E in West Springfield has seen days with record numbers of people in attendance. It had its biggest all-time crowd on the second Sunday, the largest attendance ever on a first Tuesday, and the largest Sunday attendance for an opening weekend in a decade.
The number of Big E attendees for the 2021 show officially reached 1 million on Wednesday. About 86,867 people attended the fair on September 29, bringing the total attendance to 1,012,166 guests. The fair started on September 17 and ends on October 3 of this year.
However, even with the lowest numbers in New York City, it’s still better than not fair at all, Piche told MassLive. He said 2020 had been a difficult year and that without the federal grants to business owners, he would have had to shut down his business.
This year Piche attended Delaware, Wisconsin, New York, Massachusetts and will be moving to North Carolina for a debut on October 7 and in February 2022 he will travel to Houston, Texas for their breeding and rodeo show. ‘a month.
Describing the previous year, Piche spoke of the hardships knowing it wasn’t just about making money but the experience of working at the fairs he missed. Coming back this year has not only been a dream come true for Piche, but also those close to him are seeing the change in his attitude.
“She said, ‘Oh my God! You look so good, ”Piche said, speaking of the phone call he had that day with his wife. She said, ‘You haven’t sounded like that for a long time now. “”
Without working the fairs, confides Piche, he feels lost.
“I am where I want to be. And I know what I’m doing here, ”Piche said. “Without these fairs, I am bankrupt. If I’m bankrupt, I have to find something else to do. I’ve been doing this all my life. It would be a little difficult to accept another trade at this point.
Piche is a second generation fairground seller and hopes to pass the business on to his son, Hunter Piche, 25, when he retires. It won’t be for a long time, he added, laughing. Not because his son couldn’t take on the task, Hunter runs the French fries stand, but because he loves his job and doesn’t feel the need to retire anytime soon.
“He grew up at carnivals and fairs,” Piche said.
The French fries stand is one of the four most difficult and physically demanding stands, Piche said. Most people would choose to run an easier booth with a higher profit margin, but Hunter specifically asked to take over that booth to learn the ropes, Piche told MassLive with a proud smile on his face.
“When I was younger, I started working the first week in April, the small carnivals, shopping centers, parking lots, I jump from town to town, to town. Yes. So when we traveled with an outfit like that, uh, it was a big family. You know, everyone knew everyone, everyone cared about everyone. It was, it was really nice.
Guido Mallamace, 40, has worked at Piche for 11 years and works at the Oreo funnel cake stand. He is one of 10 full-time employees who travel to the six states, working at the fairs with Piche.
Mallamace, who affectionately calls Piche “Marky”, lives in a custom-built trailer a few meters from Piche’s motorhome. He understands; separate dorms, shower, WC, washer and dryer.
“We spent a lot of time together,” said Piche. “We’re together almost 24 hours a day. So a few years ago I went and built new homes for them. After working together all day and living together all night, they sometimes put themselves in each other’s shoes. So, I went and built a new outfit with separate pieces. So now, if you don’t want to talk to the guy you’ve been working with all day, go to your room.
Piche, his dog Riley, Hunter and his girlfriend, who works alongside Hunter, live in his RV at each of the fairs.
In 2019, with companies generating a constant flow of cash, Piche invested in an all-round luxurious motorhome. It houses four televisions, a bedroom, 1.5 bathrooms, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen. Piche takes the master bedroom and her son and “daughter-in-law” take the folding bed.
With the pandemic taking away his income and Piche having to make monthly payments for the motorhome, along with a host of other expenses for his home in Ware and the business, Piche had to seek help or everything would lose. , especially the motorhome.
“I didn’t want the man from the repo knocking on my door,” Piche said. “I have a new motorhome on which I am making payments. I always make payments on the trailer. I have trucks that I make payments on and everything else. We still had to maintain assurance on this stuff.
Moving between each trade fair requires a lot of work and logistics. The convoy heading to North Carolina after the Big E closes will consist of six vehicles; the four stalls, the camper van and the staff quarters.
“I applied for a small business loan and had to send in a whole bunch of documents,” Piche said. “[The government] would give me enough money to cover my bills, not to go on vacation or anything like that. So between that money and our savings, we were able to survive because my payments kept coming in every month, even though the income was gone. “
This year he was able to partly make up for the losses of 2019, but it was a worrying time.
“What worried me the most was when the [stimulus checks] arrested, ”Piche said. “I didn’t know if they would have money to spend, you know. They’d spend the $ 13 to walk through the door, but if that’s all they’ve got, they’re not buying the fried Oreos or the funnel cakes.
Waking up at 6:45 a.m. to walk Riley around and preparing the stalls and not arriving at his motorhome until 10 p.m. to sort out the money earned during the day, wash his employees’ clothes and work on documents, Piche’s head will finally hit the pillow in the early morning. Then the routine begins again.
Although it can be exhausting working at fairs, Piche and those around him thrive in the lifestyle and are happy to be back on the road.
“You know,” Piche said, stopping to take a puff of his cigarette and look across the Big E fairground. He sees a man screaming drunk, families laughing together as they walk past and a child pulling his mother to the next attraction.
“I am where I want to be.”