SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WCAX) – The Big E is underway in Springfield, Mass., and the Vermont house is full, with 23 vendors bringing produce from the Green Mountain State to all of New England.
Skinny Pancake, Vermont Clothing Company, and Long Trail Brewing Company are three of the Vermont vendors ready to serve visitors.
The 17-day event is profitable and brought in nearly $2 million in sales to Vermont businesses in 2019, according to Trevor Lowell of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
“It gives them access to a really big market and really allows them to get their brand and their business out there in front of a lot of people,” Lowell said.
Like every year, there is some seller turnover. Places like Cold Hollow Cider Mill won’t be there this year.
“Like many companies, we are understaffed. It was a physical impossibility for us to do so. And it really hurts because it’s a very profitable business for us,” said Paul Brown of Cold Hollow Cider Mill.
Brown said their mail-order business grew 60% in 2020, making it difficult to prepare thousands of servings of food for the fair in addition to their other business ventures. The event also falls at their peak time, so the booth would be manned by people from the Springfield area.
But Brown said due to COVID concerns, he was not confident they would be able to get the necessary 14 staff per day from Springfield and could not send their staff from Vermont.
Vermont Cookie Love, who retired last year, said he would not return for similar reasons.
“Having to staff an entire second location far enough away that it’s not even a day trip for someone, is really difficult for us,” said Matt Bonoma, owner of Vermont Cookie Love.
Bonoma added that he took over the business 18 months ago and said a large part of their Springfield team had also started to pull out.
“It’s not just about reuniting the old gang, but also about recruiting and training new people. Which is hard to do for something that lasts two or three weeks a year,” Bonoma said.
Lowell says this year’s revenue is in line with previous years. He added that this year had started more slowly than last year.
“The level of uncertainty was so high that I know last year some sellers pulled out close to the event. And then we ended up having to mix things up,” Lowell said.
Despite choosing not to return, Cold Hollow said he was happy to pass the torch and helped groom new vendors for the next 17 days.
“We all support each other, so we tried to help them as much as we could by tightening them up and teaching them how to donuts, hopefully they’ll be successful,” Brown said.
The Agriculture Agency said there were four new businesses this year that they were keen to check out. The Vermont Building has undergone recent renovations and is ready for Vermont Day on Saturday, which is usually the biggest day of the fair.
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