BERRIEN SPRINGS — Eric Brantley didn’t go to any fairs last year.

As a vendor, the pandemic proved to be too much for Brantley. However, he brought his Mexican food dishes to the fairgrounds in Berrien Springs on Friday, May 21, for the first day of the Berrien County Youth Fair’s food drive-thru.

“We normally come here every year for the fair, but we didn’t come for the previous drive-thrus,” Brantley said. “It was rough. But we’re ready to work.”

Brantley focuses on taco salads in a bucket, giant burritos and fajitas.

About 10 vendors were stationed along the interior path of the fairgrounds as a line of cars wound their way to various food stops. Patrons remained in their vehicles to order and accept food.

The three-day event was aimed to help some of the concession vendors as well as the fair. Last year, the fair and its vendors canceled revenue-generating events needed to sustain year-round operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For many vendors, this is their livelihood. This gives them a chance to sell some food,” said Fair Manager Karen Klug. “People were asking about it, so we picked our dates in January.”

Patrons entered Gate 3 off of Shawnee Road and followed the barriers to the drive-thru area. The cash-only event continued on Saturday and Sunday, May 22 and 23.

Klug said there are June and July dates chosen for similar drive-thrus. However, she said they’re not sure if they’ll do them now that pandemic-related restrictions are being lifted.

In the three drive-thru events held last year, Klug said they pulled in anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 vehicles.

Janet Shafer of Berrien Springs waited in line May 21 for a chance at getting a steak dinner on the fairgrounds. She and her husband are regulars at the fair and made it a point to come to every fair food drive-thru last year.

“Every day,” Shafer, 83, said when asked how often she intends to come to the drive-thru event this weekend. “It’s great to know some of the money will go to the fair.”

Brian Myers, who operates a taffy trailer, said they struggled with little to no fair activity in 2020.

His trailer has been coming to Berrien’s fair for the last 25 years. For the fair circuit, Myers normally travels throughout Michigan, Indiana and Florida.

“The biggest concern was how am I going to pay my bills or support my family?” Myers said in reference to last year. “But the fair food drive-thrus allowed us to make some money last year.”

Following last year’s cancellation, the Berrien County Youth Fair is tentatively set to return this year Aug. 16-21.

In January, the fair’s board of directors announced when the 75th annual county fair would be held, assuming the pandemic doesn’t derail plans.

“We have been planning to move forward,” Klug said. “We haven’t totally finalized how we will place the food booths or commercial exhibitors in the buildings. I don’t think the social distancing issue will ever go away, so we want to comply with everything.”

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