On an unusually cool day for the middle of July, Tony Jones sits at a table behind his lemonade booth Wednesday afternoon waiting for the Kane County Fair to open. A box full of lemons sits to his right. He grabs one, cuts it in half and places the two halves into a container.
Behind him, Fantasy Amusements employees start up the Ferris wheel for a test run, and music can be heard faintly from across the fairgrounds. Jones stands, sets his knife down and looks around. It's 2:30 p.m. -- almost fair time.
Kane County FairThursday highlights
8 a.m.: Swine judging
8:30 a.m.: Dairy judging, horse and pony judging
9 a.m.: Rabbit judging
3 p.m.: General admission and Midway opens
4 p.m.: Goat judging
7 p.m.: Hillbilly Rockstarz at the Miller Lite Soundstage
7 p.m.: FMX Freestyle Motocross at the Grandstand (additional $8)
More info: KaneCountyFair.com.
Jones' business, Jones Concessions, has set up booths at the Kane County Fair for 25 years, more or less. He couldn't keep track, he said. He's been doing this his whole life.
"Working the fair circuit -- it's all I've ever known," he said.
From Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend, Jones spends every summer traveling with his family and selling lemonade, hot dogs, chicken and other food and beverages at fairs throughout the state. Though he lives in Louisiana, Jones -- who said he's in his 60s -- has worked at Illinois fairs for 50 years. This week he had his son and grandchildren working with him, and they were stationed in Jones' food booth.
"I love the traveling part of it," he said, "Being on the road, making friends along the way. It's an adventure."
Year after year, Jones said, business has declined slowly as fair attendance across the state also seemed to decline. A big factor of fair attendance now, he said, is inconsistent weather. Rain can send people running, but so can extremely hot temperatures.
But at this week's 146th Kane County Fair, just minutes before the gate opens, the sun is peeking out from behind the clouds and the temperature barely reaches 70 degrees.
"If the weather stays like this all week, it'll be great for business," he said. "I have a good feeling about it."
It's typical for the entire fair to be dependent on the weather, fair President Larry Breon said at the ribbon cutting around noon Wednesday.
Outside the Prairie Events Center at the Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles, Breon stood in front of a crowd of about 50 people, including Kane County Board members and officials from surrounding communities. With large, gold scissors, Breon snapped a silky, red ribbon that stretched across the group, signaling the fair's official opening.
"You have no idea how important the weather is," he said. "We couldn't have asked for a better opening day."
Though fair officials said overall attendance depends on the weather, some fairgoers have previously attended the fair in rain, shine and 100-degree temperatures.
Algonquin resident Sylvia Prehm said she makes a trip to the fairgrounds multiple times throughout the weekend to check out the photography booths, the 4-H competitions and the horses. And for her, she said, weather isn't a factor.
"Today, though, is perfect," she said.
Temperatures through the weekend will likely remain below 85 degrees, and little rain is expected, according to accuweather.com. If that forecast holds out, attendance numbers will likely exceed what they have been in recent years, said Eldon Gould, Kane County Fair Board vice president. Last year, attendance numbers reached 75,000 for the five days of the fair.
"Every year, the attendance becomes more and more weather sensitive," Gould said. "But this week looks really good."