BIDDEFORD – Organizers of La Kermesse say the festival, already struggling with financial problems and its former president’s indictment, drew one of the smallest crowds in its 28-year history this weekend.

Fewer than 2,000 people turned out for the three-day festival, which wrapped up its festivities at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Biddeford Arena and Expo Center. The festival was held in a new indoor venue with scaled-down activities such as the popular Idol competition, a petting zoo and pony rides, an inflatable slide and a climbing wall.

Around 11 a.m. on Sunday, the parking lot where some activities were held had only a few dozen people. In past years, La Kermesse has attracted more than 25,000 people.

“It’s a total flop,” said Bob Frost, who has attended the festival for the past 21 years. “Normally on a Sunday, the crowds would be elbow to elbow, and there’s no one here. Someone has to do something to perk this show up.”

Many of the vendors packed up Saturday night or Sunday morning. The few who stayed said they either made no money or lost money during the festival.

Mike Dudley, owner of Dudley’s Fried Dough, said he had sold seven or eight servings of fried dough by early Sunday afternoon. Dudley said he lost about $400 by doing the festival.

“I didn’t expect it to be this slow,” he said.

There were no lines at the rock wall, the petting zoo or the pony rides. Ed Papsis, co-owner of the Pony-Xpress Amusements, said he lost about $600 by doing the festival.

“It’s been quiet here,” he said. “The animals are used to eating a lot more. You got to give the committee credit. They are trying.”

The festival moved from its traditional home at St. Louis Field to the enclosed ice arena after running into trouble with the city last year. The combination of heavy rains, carnival rides and truck traffic damaged the field, according to the city. The city denied La Kermesse the use of the field because it has not paid the $25,000 the city says it is owed for repairs.

La Kermesse was dealt another blow earlier this month when its ex-president was charged with taking or misusing money belonging to the festival and to a condominium association.

Priscille Gagnon, 70, was indicted June 9 in York County Superior Court on two counts of theft by unauthorized taking and two counts of misuse of entrusted property. Each charge involves more than $10,000.

Gagnon, a Biddeford resident, has denied the charges.

Six weeks ago, organizers decided to have the festival but scaled it back from four days to three, and they canceled the block party, parade and fireworks display.

Joseph LeBlond, production manager for La Kermesse Franco-Americaine de Biddeford, said it’s been a difficult year. He said the financial trouble and the alleged theft from the organization made it difficult to advertise the event.

The organization owed money to some newspapers for advertising last’s year event, he said, and they wanted the money up front this year.

“Everyone is looking at us like, ‘Who else in that organization has their hand in the cookie jar?’” LeBlond said. “I have donated a lot of time. My wife and children are involved. It’s been a hard road for us. I feel like I kind of got kicked in the face with all that went on.”

Longtime supporters of the celebration of Franco-American culture filled the ice arena Sunday and listened to the Idol competition and a band. The eighth annual contest drew 16 competitors. Janice Petrin of Biddeford won first place by one point.

Supporters of the festival said they want to keep the festival alive. Jeannine Laflamme of Prospect Street said she has attended the festival since it began in 1982. She said she loves the French music and seeing the same faces each year.

“I always love coming to La Kermesse,” she said.

Larry Farley of Highland Street said he loves the French music, the food and the people.

“A community like this should get together more often,” he said. “I don’t understand a word of French, but I love it.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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