By: Lillian Lema, Staff Writer
Fair season is a very exciting time for the people of New England. All the delicious fair food, arts & crafts stands, carnival rides and attractions bring people from all over to enjoy the festivities. However, for USM student Sisa Lema and her family, fair season isn’t recreational, but rather about hard work.
Lema’s parents are self-employed and own a small retail business. Since the age of 12 she has been involved in the family business. “I’ve helped my parents with their small business by selling at fairs, festivals, malls, supersales, flea markets and so forth around New England,” Lema said.
The beginning of the fall semester is a hectic time for Lema and her siblings as they try to balance school and fair season. During the month of September, Lema spends every weekend in a different state in the New England area, such as Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.
September and October host the biggest fairs of the season, the Cumberland and Fryeburg fairs. In order to keep up with her school work, Lema looks at her syllabus in advance to see what assignments are due and if they correlate with fair dates. Usually, Lema finds herself completing assignments and studying for exams in advance just to keep up with her classes. “There have been times where I’d had to drop a class because my schedules with the fair and the workload were a bit too much to handle,” Lema said.
“Working at the fairs isn’t made for everyone,” Lema explains. “The job consists of long 12-hour days… in the summer I’m standing in the heat and humidity and in the fall the cold and wind is another thing I have to endure.”
There have been times where Lema and her family don’t get more than three hours of sleep when they transition from fair to fair, such as between the Cumberland and Fryeburg fair. “The Cumberland fair ends on a Saturday around 10 p.m. and the next day, Sunday, the Fryeburg fairgrounds open their gates at 7 a.m.,” Lema said.
Tear down at the Cumberland fair for Lema and her family consists of packing merchandise for two 20’ x 20’ booths. Everything must be packed perfectly in order to fit into their box truck. The very last part consists of them disassembling the 200 lbs. tents. It is about 1 a.m. by the time the Lema family finish packing. Then, they head for an hour drive to the Fryeburg fairgrounds.
“Once we get there we have to do last minute preparations on the three booths we have there… by the time we are done it’s 4 a.m.,” Lema said. “Coffee becomes our best friend on the first day.”
Lema’s early introduction to the retail business caught her interest and was the key source in choosing her major, small business management/entrepreneurship. By working for her parents Lema has been able to gain management skills as she is sent to different festivals and fairs on her own. She is able to input her opinions on what products to sell and how to display those products. “I also advise my parents on the financial part of the business” Lema said.
Balancing work and school has taught Lema time management skills. “When you miss school for a week every year since you were 12 it gets a bit easier to plan ahead, but the stress is still there,” Lema explains. During down time at the fairs, which is very few, Lema will work on some homework or study.
“I prioritize education and don’t like handing in assignments late because it’s unprofessional… Rain or shine homework gets done,” Lema said.
Once the Fryeburg fair comes to an end Lema can breathe again and just focus on school. Lema is expected to graduate in Fall 2020 and pursue an entrepreneurship career. “I’m not sure what product I will choose to focus on to start my own business, but I do know that I want to be my own boss,” Lema said.
Being self-employed and pursuing an entrepreneurship career is something Lema’s parents have embedded in her. In matter of fact, it’s something our parents have embedded in us. Sisa Lema is my sister. At the next fairs and festivals take a moment to think about the people working there. You never know, two of them might just be USM students.