Chugiak-Eagle River vendors, exhibitors keep state fair spinning

Friday, September 22, 2017 - 12:10
  • Customers crowd around the Southcentral Alaska Beekeepers Association booth at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 24, 2017. The organization, which meets monthly at the Eagle River VFW Post 9785, sells a variety of locally produced honey at its state fair booth (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Kids and adults ride bumper cars at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 24, 2017. The fair’s popular carnival rides are provided by Chugiak-based Golden Wheel Amusements. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Kids and adults enjoy the carnival at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 24, 2017. The rides at the fair are provided by Chugiak-based Golden Wheel Amusements. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Eagle River residents Stacy and Louie George in their booth at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 24, 2017. The business offers handmade dog treats baked fresh in the George’s Eagle River kitchen. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Elaine Fergen of the Valley Quilters Guild quilts in the Irwin exhibit hall on opening day of the Alaska State Fair, Aug. 24, 2017. The 2017 state fair quilt exhibit included more than 270 pieces from across Alaska. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Louie George, Doggy Decadents co-owner, assists customers in his booth at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 24, 2017. The Eagle River business offers handmade dog biscuits and other treats. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • A crowd gathers for a quilt show in the Irwin exhibit hall at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 24, 2017. The state fair this year features more than 270 quilts submitted and judged by Alaskans across Southcentral, including Chugiak-Eagle River. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Quilts hang from the ceiling of the Irwin exhibit hall at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 24, 2017. The state fair this year features more than 270 quilts submitted and judged by Alaskans across Southcentral, including Chugiak-Eagle River. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Crowds wander the carnival grounds at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 24, 2017. The rides at the fair are provided by Chugiak-based Golden Wheel Amusements. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Before thousands of Alaskans and visitors flooded Palmer for the opening day of the Alaska State Fair Thursday, Eagle River quilter Jo Ann Gruber spent two full days helping 27 volunteers hang 274 quilts from the rafters and walls of the Irwin exhibit hall.

“It couldn’t be done without the volunteers,” Gruber said. “I think it speaks well of our community.”

Gruber, a professional quilter who co-owns a local quilting business with her husband, John, has been part of the fabric of the state fair for decades. She’s helped hang the quilts for 14 years now, and judged the fair’s annual quilt show for more than 20 years, she said. She’s a charter member of Eagle River’s Chugach Mountain Quilters’ Guild and part of another quilters’ guild in Anchorage, too, she said.

At the Palmer fairgrounds, though, Gruber’s part of something bigger – an energetic group of Chugiak-Eagle River vendors and exhibitors who help bring the fair to life.

Just inside the Red Gate, families flocked to the bright, spinning carnival rides operated by Chugiak’s own Golden Wheel Amusements; outside the livestock barn, a crowd gathered to purchase honey from the Southcentral Alaska Beekeepers Association, a group that meets monthly at the Eagle River VFW post. Inside the barn, honey from Eagle River Valley Alpine Farm won blue and red ribbons, praised for its flavor, aroma and clarity.

There are locally produced treats for every taste: Across from the mini-monster truck track on the Purple Trail, Eagle River residents Stacy and Louie George run a gourmet dog biscuit business.

The bright pink Doggy Decadents booth drew a steady stream of curious customers on Aug. 24, the fair’s opening day. Inside, bags of salmon cheddar, bacon cheddar and peanut butter-flavored dog treats lined the walls. Flavored dog food seasoning and frosted dog cupcakes are also popular, the Georges said.

“Just the novelty of a cupcake for a dog – people like that,” said Stacy George.

The 2017 state fair is the couple’s third since purchasing Doggy Decadents a little over three years ago, they said. They operate the business after working other full-time jobs, they said, and running the state fair booth requires cashing in on vacation leave to spend full days at the Palmer fairgrounds.

Meeting all the new customers that pour into their booth is one of the best parts of the fair, the couple said. Doggy Decadents sells its products online and in local pet stores and gift shops. The fair is an opportunity for the Georges to see their customers face to face. There are a lot of them.

After spending the first part of opening day at the state fair, Stacy George said she planned to go back home and start baking again to keep up with demand. One batch of treats makes 40-50 bags and takes about five hours of work. They’ve been making a lot lately, but they don’t mind the time commitment, they said.

“Running out of treats is a good problem to have,” said Stacy George.

Across the fairgrounds on opening day, from dog biscuit booths to bumper car rides, Chugiak-Eagle River vendors and exhibitors drummed up steady business.

Inside the Irwin exhibit hall, the canopy of quilts hung by a cadre of local volunteers attracted a stead stream of wide-eyed admirers. On opening day, the first of a series of hourly quilt shows drew a standing-room only crowd to the stage at the back of the exhibit hall. Some of the more intricate designs on display required 40 hours of work or more, Gruber said

“We have some very talented quilters in the state, and they’re putting out some fantastic work,” she said.

Some of the best examples go on display at the state fair. A steady stream of it comes from Chugiak-Eagle River, she said.

“I think we’re all inspired by each other,” Gruber said.

The fair runs through Sept. 4 at the Palmer fairgrounds.

For admissions, parking and more information, visit the fair online at AlaskaStateFair.org or find it on Facebook.

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