91st Fair comes to an end

WAILUKU – The 91st Maui Fair came to a close Sunday evening after welcoming a couple new rides, some additional visitors and its trademark food.

Dating back to 1918, this year’s fair hosted 53 commercial exhibits, 44 food vendors, 19 rides, and dozens of carnival games and farm animals. The fair’s final day permitted free entry for the first 2,000 people.

“It’s been pretty nice, smooth and pretty successful,” said Sherri Grimes, managing director for the Maui Fair Alliance.

The two new rides introduced to the fair were the Jungle Twist, a roller-coaster ride with rotating cabins, and the Magic Maze, a mirrored fun house that ends with a slide. In contrast, the Dragon Coaster, a winding roller-coaster, celebrated its final appearance at the fair.

To get to this final day of attractions was not easy. Hundreds of volunteers set up two giant tents for the commercial exhibits and countless wooden structures for food vendors in a span of two months.

“When you’re dealing with this many people and when you’re dealing with events – you can plan, you can pre-plan, you can organize, but it’s really when things are in motion that the real management comes into play,” said Grimes, who is in her fourth year as managing director.

Her management began opening night, Thursday, which saw a 2 percent increase in attendance from last year. (Attendance figures were not immediately available Sunday.) Although the total number of visitors has yet to be calculated, Grimes said attendance appears to be up due to promotional giveaways, pre-sale tickets and parade participants.

Seventy-eight groups, or about 6,000 people, participated in the parade, which was up from 65 groups last year. Pre-sale tickets were up 4 percent.

With the additional ticket sales and promotions, Grimes said she hopes total attendance at the fair will be more than the 93,527 that entered the gate last year.

“I think overall it’s been a little better,” she said. “At the end of the fair, we’ll be able to factor in how many people entered.”

Helping to manage the crowds of Maui residents and visitors were security personnel and police officers, which totaled more than 50 at any given time. They were supported by an all-hazard incident management team consisting of fire, police and American Red Cross officials trained in disaster relief.

The throngs of visitors crammed on the field adjacent to the Soichi Sakamoto Pool found relief in the sweet aroma of local food, including kalbi beef prepared by Butch Eugenio of the Maui Polynesian Tahiti Fete food booth.

On Sunday, Eugenio was cooking some of the last of 13,000 pounds of beef short rib prepared for the four-day fair.

“We just cook. They tell us we need more. We cook more,” he said with a smile alongside fellow griller Kanale Opiana.

Around 8:30 a.m. on fair days, Eugenio hauled buckets filled with the meat – which were carefully wrapped – to the booth and prepared it on the grill, he said.

Money raised at the booth, which also sold cascarones, a Filipino dessert, has been used to fund workshops and events such as the group’s annual festival that celebrates Polynesian and other Asian cultures during the second week of August at War Memorial Stadium.

“I’ve been doing it about 12 years now,” Eugenio said. “It’s a lot of work, but if I stop doing it I’ll miss it. Just seeing the whole community out here is wonderful.”

Also preparing beef at the fair was the Maui United Soccer Club, which prepared about 2,500 pounds of New York strip steak.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Vicki Soohoo, whose son Caleb, plays for the club’s Under-15 team. “We sweat a lot in here.”

The booth filled with “die-hard soccer” moms and volunteers appeared to be doing little better than last year, Soohoo said. The food booth has served as the major fundraiser for the club’s tournaments in California, Idaho and other states.

“That’s the hardest part for Maui because they have to travel at least two or three times a year if they want to compete competitively,” she said.

Aside from the food, visitors cooled off with frosty POG and lemonade provided by Iao United Church of Christ.

At least 70 volunteers from the church alternated three- to four-hour shifts and were led by Kamehameha Maui School junior Samantha Hill.

Hill, who had been helping at the booth since the fair opened, typically arrived around 9 a.m. to set up the ice machines, fill the POG and lemonade concentrate and review inventory.

Although she did not know how much ice was brought for the fair, “it was a lot,” she said.

“I enjoy it. I’m the only youth on the (fair) committee,” she said.

“And you always hear from her,” said volunteer Howard Ikeda.

Outside the food booths were dozens of commercial vendors, including Airbrush Art Maui.

The customizable clothing store located on Main Street in Wailuku had a double tent set-up at the fair and spray painted white T-shirts and hats in front of customers. It was only its second year at the fair. Owner Elmer Bio Jr. had previously worked out of his home and for other stores.

“It’s different because I used to come in and just paint,” Bio said Saturday afternoon. “Now I have to know the whole operation of it aside from just painting.”

“I think we’re doing better than last year. Yesterday our compressor went down because it overheated. . . . We brought an extra one today just in case,” he said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at