By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- Concessionaires might have a lot to crow about with nearly a half-million people visiting the fair, but the traffic kills the business of some community restaurants and retailers.
"We see a definite slowdown in our business," reported Shannon Fitz-Patrick, manager of Belleria Express, a pizza shop in Hilltop Plaza on U.S. Route 224.
"As you can see, we have a location problem," she said, motioning to the intersection where Route 224, Fairground Boulevard and the state Route 11 interchange come together.
During the Canfield Fair, the area is jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic from early morning until late night, restricting access to Belleria's parking lot.
Orders for pizza delivery even slow down during the fair, Fitz-Patrick said. "People get annoyed because we can't get it to them as quickly as we normally can."
Mixed effects: The fair traffic deters customers of Ren & eacute;e's French Bakery & amp; Cafe, too. It is also in Hilltop Plaza.
"The fair affects our business negatively," said Sherry Cole, manager and co-owner of the eatery. Regulars "are probably avoiding the traffic," she reasoned.
Every year during the fair, sales "go down a little," she said. "We're closed on Sunday and Monday, so it really only affects us Friday and Saturday," she added.
The fair runs Wednesday through Labor Day.
On the positive side, a few customers visit Ren & eacute;e's because of the fair. They know the bakery and have been there before, Cole said, but don't get to Canfield often. So when they visit the fair, they make special efforts to stop at Ren & eacute;e's.
Even though sales to these customers don't make up for the decrease in sales to regulars, Cole said, "We like the fair."
Passing through: The situation is similar at China Hing, a restaurant in Colonial Plaza. Business there slows down, said owner Kwok Lam, because there are "Chinese stands at the fair and people are eating there."
Still, Lam said, "we see a lot of new faces between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m." as people are leaving Canfield. These one-time customers are passing through. Although sales to them do not cover the loss in sales to regulars, he said, they bring in enough business to lessen the drop.
Closing down: DiRusso's Restaurant closes altogether during the fair. "Basically, we don't like to compete with ourselves," manager Tim Hallaman said.
DiRusso's operates nine sausage concessions at the fair. The restaurant is a stone's throw away on South Broad Street near Fairground Boulevard. Regulars who dine at the sausage and pasta place three or four times a week "miss us when we're closed, especially the older people who may not go to the fair," Hallaman said.
Most regulars are locals, he continued, although there are some folks who travel from surrounding communities to eat at the restaurant and then fill an ice chest with frozen sausage.
"One woman whose son moved to Columbus told me that he stops here first and has a sausage sandwich every time he comes home," Hallaman said, laughing.
Getting a boost: The week before DiRusso's closes, and the week after it reopens, sales are higher than usual. Hallaman attributes the increase to workers who frequent DiRusso's for lunch while they set up concessions, tents and amusements the week before the fair and tear them down the week after the fair.
"It's a whole new community there," he observed, and that community provides a new set of customers.
Perkins Family Restaurant on Route 224 at Fairground Boulevard experiences a similar surge in sales the week before the fair.
"Our business picks up a lot," reported Lisa Sawders, a server at the establishment. "We get a lot of people who work at the fair setting up." If it rains, she added,Ω business is even stronger.
During the fair, Sawders continued, "we get a lot of families who like to eat before they go to the fair." They usually stop for breakfast.
Some families and fair workers also stop for dessert after leaving the fair, she added. That is especially true on the weekend when Perkins is open until 2 a.m.
Ordinarily, Bob's Service, a gas station and automotive service center in the square, experiences a 10-percent to 20-percent increase in sales during the fair, owner Bob Schall said.
Fairgoers stop to fuel up, and parents who drop their children off at the fairgrounds for a few hours often have their cars serviced rather than drive home, he said.
The increase in fuel sales the station has experienced in the past was primarily because of customers' coming into Canfield specifically for the fair, Schall said. "The fair brings a lot of new faces, and everybody needs potential new customers."