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Fair officials seek relief from high shipping costs

Event scheduled for Oct. 4 to 7; entertainment contract still not inked

High shipping costs are a concern for E.K. Fernandez Shows as Maui Fair officials negotiate a contract for rides, games and entertainment for the annual event at the War Memorial Complex in Wailuku. For the first time last year, E.K. Fernandez agreed to only a one-year deal, compared to the norm of five years previously. Fair officials were confident that an agreement could be reached. This photo was taken Sept. 25 at last year’s fair. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Maui Fair is set for Oct. 4 to 7, and while the annual event is without a contract for entertainment services, fair officials have faith they will sign one before the four-day event.

“We don’t have a contract today and although that provides a level of insecurity for us, I’m still confident we’re going to have a 96th Maui Fair in October,” said Avery Chumbley, president of the Maui Fair Alliance, on Tuesday.

The alliance is in talks with E.K. Fernandez Shows to reach another deal to provide rides, games and entertainment for the fair. For the first time last year, the company agreed to only a one-year contract rather than its typical five-year commitment due to increased shipping rates.

“They still continue to express concerns for high Neighbor Island shipping costs and to get their materials from Oahu,” Chumbley said. “We continue to have discussions with the state Harbors Division looking at more permanent ways to find relief from that.”

Company President Scott Fernandez was unavailable to comment earlier this week due to the 50th State Fair happening this month at Aloha Stadium. He has previously pointed to shipping rates that have doubled over the past decade, which led to the cancellation of the Maui County Carnival last year.

Chumbley has sought commitments from E.K. Fernandez and the state to help continue the fair until at least the 100th anniversary coming up in four years. He met with representatives from Gov. David Ige’s office and the Harbors Division for help with shipping fees earlier this year.

“We’ve made some progress, but it’s still being looked at on a year-to-year basis as opposed to long term,” Chumbley said. “We were able to get consideration last year, but we’re hoping the state can agree to something on a more permanent basis going forward.”

State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said via email that the department is in discussions with Neighbor Island fair organizers “to determine how it can best support the 2018 county fairs.” She said the governor and Harbors Division acknowledge the county fairs as “valued community assets” that can have “very real and positive economic impacts” on communities.

“The fairs create a unique gathering place for people of all ages that also afford significant fundraising opportunities to nonprofit community organizations, school clubs and youth sports teams,” Kunishige said. “In view of the public benefit created by the Neighbor Island county fairs, the HDOT Harbors Division waived wharfage charges last year on the equipment shipped to Kauai, Hawaii and Maui for the fairs.”

Another critical stakeholder in putting on the fair is Young Brothers, the sole carrier of shipped goods between Honolulu and the Neighbor Islands. Chumbley said he has not spoken to officials with the company recently, but noted some “pretty significant” and recent corporate leadership changes.

Longtime Young Brothers President Glenn Hong retired after nearly 30 years with the company and a senior vice president also retired, but moved to the Harbors Division, Chumbley said. The changes could be an advantage, but he was not entirely sure Tuesday.

“I understand Young Brothers is taking more of a corporate stance as opposed to a community stance now,” Chumbley said. “We continue to reach out to YB for more favorable charter rates.”

In an email Wednesday, Young Brothers President Joseph Boivin said: “The new leadership team at Young Brothers is committed now more than ever to serve our Neighbor Island communities.”

Young Brothers officials had previously disputed claims regarding rate increases and clarified that the company provides E.K. Fernandez a special voyage rate to transfer equipment on a single trip. The charter affords the entertainment company a discount of more than one-third off tariff rates.

Company officials also noted that state wharfage rate increases were the biggest factor in increased shipping costs.

In terms of this year’s fair, organizers are hailing it as: “Celebrating the Good Ol’ Days.” It will open with the traditional parade Thursday and continue with rides, food, entertainment and other features.

The Maui Fair Alliance has already met a couple times this year and plans to add a couple new rides and possibly a “special act,” Chumbley said. He declined to characterize it as a circus act, but he did not rule out the involvement of animals.

“We’re working on options,” he said.

The first food vendor meeting is scheduled for sometime around the end of June, which will give organizers an idea how many spots they need to fill. Last year, the fair had an empty food booth for the first time in at least three decades.

“We were scrambling to fill those booths,” Chumbley said. “In the past, we had waiting lists with eight, 10, 12 community organizations. It continues to be challenging for organizations to get labor and staff and resources to operate a booth. It’s a lot of work.”

“For many community organizations, it is the single largest opportunity to raise revenue in a year,” he continued. “Some make tens of thousands of dollars in profit. It just requires a lot of time and a lot of people to pull it off.”

Highlights for the 96th Maui Fair are the Food & Festival Village; the events arena showcasing Maui school orchestras, organizations and clubs; the E.K. Fernandez Joy Zone; horticulture, orchidland and livestock & poultry exhibits; hobbies and crafts; a chili cook-off; Baby of the Year; a pie eating contest; and a photo and art exhibit.

For more information on the fair and to request a food booth, visit www.mauifair.com/.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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