ELYSBURG - As the throng of vendors at this year's Bloomsburg Fair hustle to make their week a profitable one, an Elysburg man who for nearly four decades worked day and night during fair week remains at home.
The Flood of 2011 wiped out Don Roadarmel's fair business, inundating much of his catering equipment he stored inside a pair of buildings on the fair grounds.
He lost steam tables, counter tops, platforms, tables and chairs, fryers and grills. Despite insurance covering some of the losses, at 81 years old, Don says the cost of reinvesting in new equipment didn't make sense.
"There's too much involved to get started up at my age," he said.
Don says his father started barbecuing chickens in the late 1940s or early 1950s. He took to the work and had long headed the family business in Elysburg, Roadarmel's Bar-B-Que Chicken & Ribs on South Hickory Street.
Each September since 1974 he took the family business on the road 25 minutes north to Bloomsburg for the famous fair event. The tents above the Roadarmel operation would be pitched on the weekend after Labor Day, two weeks before the fair's opening. During a good week he went through up to 175 60-pound boxes of chicken alone, not to mention spare ribs and fixings.
Some customers returned nightly, he said, and the fair was a good way to get leads on customers year-round for their Elysburg business.
"It's a lot of hard work. Everybody thinks you go up and make $10,000 a day. I never did," he said.
And it's the hard work that he misses most - that and the friendships he struck up with fellow vendors and customers alike.
The Catino family, celebrating 20 years at the fair this year, were rookies by comparison when they set up their Italian Specialties shop near Fifth Street and D Avenue, just across from Roadarmel's.
"You'd hear excitement over there under the tent. It'd be loud, there'd be laughing. ... There'd always be a lot of people there," said Maria Catino, who runs the family stand with her husband, Arty.
"Now when we're setting up, it's quiet."
Maria and Arty both expressed sadness about how Mother Nature knocked Roadarmel out of the fair business. More than that, they were sad simply not to have Don and his wife, Ann, around "the neighborhood."
Jerry Snyder felt the same. His family started doing business at the fair in 1972 and have one of their many stands at the fair located near Catino's and where the Roadarmels' had been.
Jerry was a sophomore then, and he recalled how his father bonded with Don over their fair experiences. His dad died of cancer eight years ago, and he said he stepped into his shoes, building on his own friendship with Don along the way.
"I'm a talker now," he joked of picking up the conversations with Don that had once involved his father.
Like many at the fair, last year's flooding was a disaster for the Snyders. He didn't lose any equipment, not like the Roadarmels, but they lost a week's worth of business at the largest fair in the state.
Turns out he lost a little bit more than that even.
"Each year you hold your breath and hope to see your friends," Jerry said, noting how some vendors only meet during that busiest of weeks each September. "Not seeing that big white tent there, it's hard."
Jerry and the Catinos each took heart in the Roadarmels' replacement. Don's granddaughter, Joy Lunger, has her own family stand, Lunger's Pork Pit, in the space the Roadarmels had long occupied.
On Joy's trailer is a sign from the Roadarmels announcing that the flood closed down their fair stand for good and thanking their many loyal customers. She said some of those customers have been stopping by and asking about her grandfather.
"It's kind of weird not seeing all his stuff here," she said.
"He misses getting up at 5 a.m. and going home at 10 p.m.," she continued, joking, "I don't know why."
"Of course, you can see he got it in my blood too."
Joy worked at her grandfather's stand. So, too, did his wife, Ann.
Standing outside their Elysburg business, Ann and Don held up a photo of the two of them together from 2005 - Ann smiling wide and Don cracking a smile, too. Another older photo of Don caught him mugging for the camera, with Don admitting it's evidence that working all those hours under the same tent can make a person stir crazy.
"When you've done it for so long you get involved in it," he said. Told that the long days and nights amount to what sounds like a labor of love, he said, "I guess that's the best way to put it."
Ann gave a laugh when talking about all the work involved. Turns out she wasn't as fond of it as her husband was. She and Don both shared the affection the Catinos and Snyders had for them.
"Aww, they miss us, and we miss them," she said.