The Big E is back, and it’s expected to be bustling this year. With an estimated 1.6 million people attending each year, it’s the largest agricultural event on the East Coast, and the fifth-largest fair in the United States.
It’s being held in Springfield, Massachusetts, from Sept. 16 through Oct. 2, and Vermont will be well represented.
After a hiatus as consequence of the COVID pandemic, during which the fair was canceled for the first time ever in 2020, followed by a slow year in 2021, this should feel more like a normal year at the fair. There will be the typical agricultural events found at fairs, such as 4-H demonstrations and horse shows, big-name concerts, including Sublime and Nellie, and the usual fair rides and food.
If you follow the smells of maple and cider confections, you’ll find yourself at the booth of Green Mountain Concessions, owned by Sarah Perrin and Michael Nigro, of Bennington. They’re among 23 vendors representing value-added agricultural and retail businesses in Vermont, and they will serve fresh, hot apple cider doughnuts, maple cotton candy and cider slushies, all made right there, on the spot.
“We really don’t need signs, people just follow their noses,” says Nigro of the enticing aromas wafting from their booth.
They will be joined at the Big E by longtime vendors like Long Trail Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and the Skinny Pancake, plus Bergamot + Amor, Nomadic Kitchen Confections, Danforth Pewter, and Mother Myrick’s Confectionary, who represent a mix of veteran and new vendors.
The whole group representing Vermont will be in the Vermont Building at the Big E, which is a large brick building on the Avenue of States, a row of brick buildings that each represent one of the New England states. Coordination of the vendors and activities in the Vermont Building is supported by Kristen Brassard with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
“Going to each state,” says Brassard, “is supposed to be like visiting the state.” In fact, she shares a little-known fact: It technically is visiting the state, since Vermont actually owns the small patch of property where the building sits in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Vermont Building, which was built in 1929 and is approaching its 100th year, is popular. “A lot of people say it’s their favorite building,” says Brassard. Plus, she hears from vendors saying customers who met them at the Big E came to see them when they visited Vermont.
That marketing opportunity for vendors is one of two primary goals at the Vermont Building. For one, it’s a chance for Vermont to showcase what is has to offer and encourage people to visit or relocate to the state. The Big E is also a major marketing opportunity for the businesses in attendance, with high attendance of folks from throughout New England visiting the fair each year.
Nigro shares exactly this sentiment: “Any time a small business gets a chance to put their products in front of over a million eyeballs, that’s huge.” He says it’s the biggest event every year for this husband-and-wife team. They have even seen their business grow in different directions because of their experience at the Big E.
“Everybody is there because of the opportunity it represents for their business,” says Nigro.
But there also is something special about the Big E and being in the Vermont Building for them that goes beyond simply the business and marketing perspective. In fact, says Nigro, they opt for this event over other large agricultural events in the Northeast because of a sense of community they find at the Big E.
“It’s really fun and energizing to work in this little community of Vermont businesses and entrepreneurs,” says Nigro. “It’s a collaborate network and feel.”
“Being a small business owner,” he says, “you can be a little obsessed about business.” He says he is guilty of talking about his business often and sometimes has to be mindful of scaling back on business talk. “But here’s a group I can talk about the business with, a group that is sharing that experience.”
For Vermonters visiting the Big E this year, Brassard shares that there are two special days worth checking out. Saturday, Sept. 24, is Vermont Day, with live music, woodcarving demonstrations, and other special activities. “That’s a really special and exciting day to come visit because that’s our day,” says Brassard.
Then, Sept. 30, is Harvest Day, and there will be a farmers’ market-style event on the lawn in front of the Vermont Building, where about 10 more Vermont vendors will join to offer their products and test out the fair for their business.
Visit the website at www.thebige.com for more information on the Big E, including schedules, events and tickets.