Faces Behind the Riverhead Country Fair

Two men, and an army of volunteers, work all year to make Sunday's event a success.

It all starts with a cup of coffee.

Every January, Jim Lull, Jr. and Patrick Mulcahy start meeting on Saturday mornings over a cup of joe to start brainstorming and organizing the coming year's Riverhead Country Fair, which takes place every Columbus Day weekend.

The Riverhead Country Fair, now in its 37th year, is a labor of love that for 28 years, was spearheaded by Jim and Connie Lull.

Today, the tradition continues, with Jim Lull, Jr. and Mulcahy co-coordinators at the reins of one of Riverhead's most beloved traditions.

Mulcahy said he has loved the Riverhead Country Fair since he was a lieutenant with the Riverhead Police Department. 

Mulcahy, who now works for the Suffolk County District Attorney's offie, said when Lull reached out and asked if he'd help, he eagerly signed on; he is now in his third year as co-coordinator.

Job duties run from painting the lines on Main Street with a host of volunteers, including his own children and Councilman Jim Wooten, participating; heading out as part of the "morning crew" to set up; helping to processing the mammoth amount of paperwork involved in signing up vendors; and working with volunteers to put out the brochure for the festival, Mulcahy said.

"It's a lot of work, but it's very satisfying at the end of the day," he added. 

For Mulcahy, the magic of the fair has always kept him coming back. "I've always loved the atmosphere," he said. "It's a lot of fun. My favorite part of the fair is the agruculture and homemaking section," complete with antique tractors, farm and household equpment. Events such as quilt, baking, and vegetable contests remind visitors of Riverhead's rich agricutural roots, Mulcahy said.

"It inspires you," he said. "This is what old country fairs used to be."

Plus, Mulcahy said, the Riverhead Country Fair offers a coruncopia of delights, with over 400 vendors, "food like you can't believe," ranging from kielbasa to funnel cakes, Greek fare to sausage and peppers, amusements and rides for the kids, and the Riverhead Free Library set up in Grangebel Park with activities including a magician, storytelling, and juggling. Live music and performances by high school students will also be featured.

Spots are left open in front of Riverhead businesses, Mulcahy said, to ensure foot traffic can reach local shop owners.

The event, he added, benefits Riverhead Townscape, with proceeds benefiting projects that beautify Riverhead.

In addition, the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce hosts a business expo at the fair; the chamber is able to engage in fundraising efforts, as well. 

Mulcahy said the Riverhead Country Fair represents a coming-together of all corners of the community, including the local Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, the police and town departments, the Library, and scores of volunteers who put months of time and a lifetime of heart into organizing the event.

The event, he said, encapsulates "the spirit and heritage of Riverhead volunteerism -- it shows you the spirit of Riverhead."

Of the months of work involved, Mulcahy, who has lived in Wading River since 1969, laughed. "I don’t know how Connie and Jim Lull did it for 28 years," Mulcahy said. "I take my hat off to them. It’s amazing."

But the labor of love is worth it, he added. "It's a great time."

For Jim Lull, Jr., the Riverhead Country Fair has been a part of his life since childhood, when he watched his parents run the show.  Over the years, Lull, Jr., who has been involved firsthand since 1982, has spent time organizing a 10K road race for the event, answering phones, "and doing just about every job there is, one year or another."

The event, Lull said, "is always a great time," and a chance to see old high school friends.

Originally, Lull said, during a transition year, his father passed the reigns to Mulcahy, and then, ended up staying upstate longer than expected due to medical issues, opening the door for his son to step up in his stead to run the fair. "Pat and I got thrown in the mix together, and we clicked pretty well," Lull said.

Both men have other jobs -- Lull works at the pro shop at Calverton Links -- but make the time to start planning the fair in January. "It's a lot of work, but at the end of the day, when you see people smiling and having fun, and vendors having a good day, and people finding something unique for a loved one, or for Christmas -- it makes it all worthwhile," he said, adding that he is particularly proud of the agricultural offerings that spotlight Riverhead's heritage.

Lull especially likes having the Riverhead Free Library involved and offering children's activities and said it's fulfilling to see proceeds from the event used to beautiful Main Street with flowers and to help restore buildings.

The fair, he added, "is a cooperative effort," with volunteers arriving at 5 a.m. to set up and helping to clean the street completely by 8 p.m. "It's the people -- the volunteers, the merchants, the police department, building and grounds, the electricians that make the fair what it is," Lull said. "There are so many little things that go on that people don't even know about."

One year, the New York State Department of Transportation even stopped repaving efforts to allow the event to commence on schedule. "To have that kind of effect, that a state agency makes a change in their schedule for the fair -- it's impressive," Lull said.

The annual event, Lull said, "doubles the size of the town. It shows Riverhead in a very good light."


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