The Blue Hill Fair is full of traditions, some institutional, some personal and some that involve whole families.
That’s the case for the Lepper family, who for the past 20 years have been stationed at the end of the grandstand on the fair’s midway selling their Lime Fizz drinks to loyal customers, and this weekend was no exception at this year’s event, which runs through today and was interrupted only briefly by Tropical Storm Earl.
Boop’s Lime Fizz began in 1990, after the family, Jim and Nada Lepper and their two children, Jason and Betsy, took a trip to Washington, D.C., where they tasted a drink called a lime fizzie.
“We thought that maybe people would like it at the Blue Hill Fair,” Nada Lepper said Sunday while sorting limes at the booth. “It was a way for the family to be together at the fair and add to the fun we had at the fair. It was a family experiment.”
They were no newcomers to the event. Like most families living on the Blue Hill Peninsula, they had been coming to the fair for years. Before starting the Lime Fizz booth in 1990, Nada Lepper had a small game booth in the midway just feet away from where the stand sits today, and her father had a similar booth farther down the midway.
Betsy was 11 when they started the booth, which bears her nickname, “Betsy Boop,” after the cartoon character Betty Boop. She has grown up with the Lime Fizz as part of the fair tradition, and their customers now expect them to be there.
“People would be disappointed if we weren’t here,” she said. “You almost feel obligated to do it. But it’s fun. We see people we don’t see all year long. It’s kind of a reunion at the fair.”
Betsy said that when they’re working the booth, they work together as a seamless unit, squeezing, stirring shaking.
“We don’t even have to talk,” she said.
Even as kids, she added, “we never fought in the booth.”
One of the nice things about having the Lime Fizz booth at the fair is that they’ve developed repeat customers whom they know only because of the booth.
“We know we’ll see them every year at the fair,” Jason Lepper said. “We don’t always know their names, but we’ll see them at the mall in Bangor and we recognize them just because they’re customers here.”
Nada Lepper has a simple answer for why people keep coming back.
“It tastes good,” she said. “And it’s no secret.”
The recipe is just fresh lime, water, sugar, ice and club soda — shaken, not stirred.
There was a steady stream of Lime Fizz fans heading to the booth on Sunday. Nada Lepper said the nice thing about the success of the booth over the years is that it seems to attract all age groups. Young and old, even teenagers.
“I figure if this is a place where teenagers like to hang out, it’s a good thing,” she said.
Over the years they’ve tried adding other items — chips or tacos — to go with the popular drink, she said.
“It didn’t work. So now we know just to stick with the Lime Fizz,” she said.
They do sell T-shirts — bright green bearing the Lime Fizz logo on front and the slogan “converting lemonade drinkers at the Blue Hill Fair since 1990.” They sell a lot of shirts.
“We hear stories about kids showing up for the first day of school wearing their Lime Fizz shirts,” Nada Lepper said.
Over the two decades, Jason said, he has watched the customers change somewhat and seen a new generation of Lime Fizz fans come to the booth.
“It’s fun to see the next generation,” he said. “I see kids I went to high school with coming in with their kids.”
Speaking of new generations, the Lime Fizz booth is grooming the latest members of the clan for the future. While Jason’s wife, Cammie, has been a fixture in the booth for a number of years, the Leppers’ nephew Nathan Cole has helped out a lot this year, and on Saturday, Jason’s son Cole was squeezing limes.
“The key to this is family and tradition,” Nada Lepper said. “That’s what makes it work. And that’s what makes the Blue Hill Fair the Blue Hill Fair.”
The fair opened its gates a few hours late Saturday morning due to the effects of Tropical Storm Earl, which grazed the Maine coast over the weekend. The rain held off for most of the night Friday, but came down heavy during the early morning hours forcing the Saturday delay.
“We’ve had to adjust our schedule a little because of the rain,” Fair President Rob Eaton said Saturday. “We opened a little late, but nobody would be coming out in the rain anyway.”
The only cancellation for the day Saturday was the harness racing events.
“The track was not really safe for the horses or the drivers,” he said.
Saturday’s schedule at the fair featured oxen pulls, Timber Tina’s Lumberjack Show; Midway Stage performances; Rosie’s Racing Pigs; Birdie Googins, the Marden’s Lady; and comedian Juston McKinney.
The fair and Boop’s Lime Fizz will wrap up their operations today, marking the end of Labor Day weekend and the traditional end of the summer season. The fair will feature a full day of activities and events, including a 6 p.m. performance by the award-winning country group Restless Heart. For more information, visit the fair website, www.bluehillfair.com.