It almost sounds like a big game of chicken, and neither the Erie County Fair nor Chiavetta’s Chicken Bar-B-Q wants to blink first.
The ruffled feathers started in October, when the fair told the longtime vendor it plans to knock down its building and move the business back about 20 feet in an effort to open up the food court at the fair. It wanted the building vacated by Dec. 1, but Chiavetta’s pointed out its lease goes until Dec. 31.
The fair will install a new concrete pad and supply water and electricity, but there will be no permanent building for the vendor, said Dennis Lang, chief executive officer of the Erie County Agricultural Society, which runs the fair.
Those were fighting words to the family that has sold tender barbecued chicken from that spot every summer for 57 years.
“They want us to wipe the building off the face of the earth,” said Peter Chiavetta, president of the company.
The Agricultural Society has decided to widen the food court at its narrowest section by at least 10 feet and open up the east and west ends, Lang said. It wants to add more seating and a parklike atmosphere.
“The board voted to remove the New York State Lottery building and to remove the Chiavetta’s building,” Lang said. “We’re going to add green space to the end of the newly renovated Firemen’s building.”
While the company travels every weekend to cater various church picnics and festivals throughout the summer, Chiavetta’s cannot serve about 3,000 people a day at the fair from a tent, Chiavetta said. He also wants a 10-year agreement that the footprint of the new location will not change and a small credit to account for the loss of the building. The fair owns the building, but Chiavetta’s put a new roof on it three years ago.
“We can’t operate from the end of a water hose,” he said. “Why can’t you sit down and give us assurance?”
Every vendor is on a year-to-year lease, Lang said. As long as they adhere to the rules and are good tenants, there is no problem renewing the lease, he said.
“They don’t have to build a new structure. We will provide the water, the sewer, concrete pad, and they can rent a tent,” Lang said.
“We seat about 500 people at the fair,” Chiavetta said. “It might look archaic, but it’s not. It’s the comfort people are looking for.”
The chicken fight is getting noticed in the area, and Chiavetta hopes the public can appeal to the fair board. Some people already have commented on the company’s Facebook page:
“Every time I go [to the fair] I get Chiavetta’s. It is the only thing I will eat from the fair and there are a lot of people who feel the same. To think that they can just go ahead and tear down your stand is a travesty,” said one posting.
Another posting says: “I go to the fair for dinner … chicken dinner … from you. Period.”
The two other barbecue chicken vendors, Weidner’s and BW’s, operate out of buildings at the fair, Lang said.
Lang said there is no connection between the Chiavetta’s changes and the expansion of the Hamburg Casino on the fairgrounds.
The Agricultural Society hopes the state will expand casino gambling throughout New York and in Hamburg, he added, but the gambling building would not expand toward the food court, nor would the society allow parking there.
“We would blow out the north wall of the gaming center. It was constructed that way,” Lang said.
The new location will give Chiavetta’s more visibility, he contended.
“We have asked them to stay in that location so people know where to go,” Lang said.
Chiavetta said the company paid $52,000 in concession fees last year and helps nonprofit organizations raise nearly $1 million through chicken barbecues throughout the year.