EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — The Custer Fair street festival is moving to Whiting, Indiana after 48 years as a summertime highlight Evanston.
The City of Evanston said it had accommodated the fair, which has been held for many years at Main Street and Chicago Avenue in Evanston, with traffic management, food inspection, public safety personnel, and event promotion.
But in recent years, leadership changes at the Custer Fair have made its finances unstable, and nonprofit partners have reported not receiving their proper share of donations, the city said. Meanwhile, the City of Evanston said it has not been reimbursed for the services it has provided.
But in a Facebook post, Custer Fair organizers Steve and Tammy Szostek blamed the City of Evanston for their decision to move – claiming a “lack of support” from the city and one specific incident last year.
The organizers said last year, the City of Evanston blocked all entrances to the fair for public safety and brought in a mobile command vehicle.
Published reports from multiple sources noted that the command vehicle was actually a Cook County Homeland Security and Emergency Management van, and left some worried that an immigration raid by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement service was going to happen at the fair.
The festival organizers said they did not support the decision to bring in the command vehicle and it was made beyond their control – but some Evanston residents blamed them for it anyway.
Furthermore, the City of Evanston wanted to add more fees next year – which the organizers said would make it “near impossible for the fair to survive.” The festival does not make a lot of money despite impressions that it does, and the city actually gets “70 percent of what is made in all fees,” organizers said.
Festival organizers said they did not want to leave Evanston, but felt that there was no other option.
“Lots of promises were made to us last year to help make up for the poor decision they made. They never came through! We hate that after 48 years it has come to this,” the Stozseks wrote. “Custer Fair is a historical event in Evanston. It is a very heart breaking decision.
Organizers said they tried reaching out to the Evanston Mayor’s office, but messages were not returned, and other communities did not reply. They said Indiana was not their first choice – though in an earlier post, they said they were excited to move to Whiting – already known for the annual Pierogi Fest.
“We have room for about 300 vendors, a great stage for amazing entertainment,” the Stozseks wrote. “The same family friendly fair it has always been.”
The Custer Fair began in 1972 on Custer Avenue in Evanston. In recent years, the festival – a program sponsored by the Piccolo Theatre – has brought 120,000 attendees who mingle among craftspeople, restaurateurs, entertainers, antique dealers, and other participants.