I love going to small-town summer festivals, so when I heard about the Strawberry Festival in Newark OH, one of my old haunts and about a 45 minute drive from our home in Columbus, I got excited. I love festivals, I love strawberries, and I loved that this one wasn’t that far away, so there was a possibility of getting a booth there next year. Bonus: they were open on Sunday, so my husband could come with me.
When you hear “Strawberry Festival” one would expect the downtown streets to be filled with farmers’ booths, strawberry-themed games, and people lined up for strawberry confections. That was not the case with the Newark Strawberry Festival, held June 2-4, 2017 in downtown Newark, OH. My husband and I attended on Sunday, the last day of the festival. I was looking forward to coming home with a quart of fresh, locally grown strawberries, and perhaps a strawberry plant. I was anticipating sampling strawberry desserts and jams. I was expecting to see at least some strawberry-themed items, examples of different varieties of strawberries, or maybe even the biggest strawberry or food-art contest. There was a picture of what looked like trays of strawberries with cups of dipping sauce on the Facebook page and the website.
There was none of that.
There were no farmers’ booths, there was only one sad-looking food truck set up among the usual deep-fried carnival fare that even had strawberry desserts. The festival was sponsored by the local Kiwanis, selling 50/50 raffle tickets. I went to their information booth to ask where the strawberries were. The old dude pointed me toward the sole strawberry dessert truck described above, which if there wasn’t a sign with the word “strawberry” on it, you never would have known they had strawberries; there weren’t even any on display.
Now at lunchtime on a Sunday one would expect there to be lines at the many concession vendors at the festival. I saw maybe two people walking around with food. There were about 75-100 people there who weren’t working (and I’m being generous). There was a good musician on stage while we were there, doing acoustic pop covers. There were the usual carney games. There were a lot of chinese-made junk and direct sales booths, and only a handful of actual craft/small business vendors. There were desperate salesmen selling basement sealant, gutters, siding, etc., local political groups, churches handing out bibles, social aid and community groups. There were lots of rides set up for the kiddos. While we were there we saw some had one or two riders, but most were empty. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Where were all the people?
To our delight there was a miniature golf set up in a side parking lot. 2.00 for 9 holes. My husband and I love us some mini-golf, so we had to try it. It was basically long wooden boxes with fake turf on them. Some of them were pretty torn up. The parking lot wasn’t completely flat, so some of them were slanted a bit and our balls, though putted straight, rolled off to the side. It was far from regulation, but it was fun for about 15 minutes. We were at the festival for about 45 minutes. With no strawberries and not really any art or crafts to browse through, there was really no point in sticking around. We left, dejected, without tasting a single strawberry or seeing the magic show.
Newark is an ultra-conservative, economically depressed town rife with drugs, poverty, homelessness, obesity, elderly and physically and mentally handicapped folk. There is a ten commandments statue that stands like a tombstone in the town square. Many of the downtown shops are vacant, some have been remodeled recently. I could not tell you one major manufacturer in the area aside from Longaberger, who went out of business years ago.
We headed over to neighboring town of Heath, where most of the retail businesses in the area are located. We visited a few stores including their very empty, dying mall. I won’t be surprised if it’s completely closed within a couple of years. At least their Spencer’s is still open (looking at you, Lancaster.)
To curb our depression and disappointment we headed over to the Newark Earthworks, a national landmark and sacred site made of mounds built by the ancient Hopewell and one of my favorite parks in the state. At this particular location, only one of three mound sites in the area, an 8-foot tall mound encircles a 1200 meter diameter meadow speckled with trees. Aside from the people at the shelter houses outside the circle and a friendly man walking his dogs, we had the place to ourselves. One is able to walk along the perimeter on top of the mounds, but at the time they were in desperate need of mowing and I didn’t feel like getting ticks on me. We opted to walk in the inside of the circle next to the mounds, where the field had been mowed, and there were a great variety of mature trees providing a wonderful respite from the heat of the day.
I love going to small town summer festivals, and I am extremely sad to suggest that this is one to be skipped. But to end on a positive note, I am pleased to report that, for all the town’s flaws, at least the people we encountered were friendly.