Charles "Billy" Newcomb's family has pitched slicers and dicers at the Minnesota State Fair for generations. Now president of Syndicate Sales Corp. in Hopkins, Newcomb can also be found in the lower level of the grandstand touting food choppers and his famous salsa recipe. These are his words:
My family has been selling items at the State Fair since 1933. One of the original items was the Feemster Slicer. It was a vegetable slicer, and the farm ladies just loved it for their refrigerator pickles. It was very dangerous, and sold for a dollar.
My father was from Chicago. One time he was on the Boardwalk in Jersey, and a fellow was demonstrating items and making a dollar or two, so my father decided to give the business a whirl and it clicked.
Back in those days, they used to wear a three-piece suit, with pressed trousers, and they would take their dress jacket off, roll up their sleeves and work in a vest and tie. I grew up in this business ever since I could push a cart around. I was out at the fair stocking the booths, delivering vegetables and merchandise.
We travel the circuit, and the Minnesota State Fair is one of the most remarkable in the nation. Every year, people plan their fall around the State Fair, they really do. And we're still out at the fair hustling -- me, my brother and sister. We have a kitchen gadget now that's $35. My father would roll over in his grave.
My folks didn't even want me to pursue this business, but once they saw my interest, they were behind me 100 percent. We've built the business immensely in the last 30 years. We did the bowmaker -- sold tons of them out there. We did the Veg-O-Matic in the '60s, and the Dial-O-Matic -- all the Popeil products.
I'm very close to several families who always buy. No matter what we have new, they'll buy it. We have the good old Ginzu knife, which is still the good old serrated knife where you can go cut sod with it, clean it off and cut Mom's ripe tomatoes. I'm putting in new ceiling tile in the basement and using it to cut. This thing just blows me away. I tell you, it kept my brother and my sister and myself in tennis shoes.
And the Mouli. Every time I pull the Mouli out, I think of my mother. She was the demonstrator, and all the older ladies -- I gotta be delicate with this -- when I ask the older gals, "How many of you still have a Mouli in the house?" about a third of the older ladies raise their hands and I go, "You bought it from my mother."
Billy Newcomb's comments are edited from a longer interview with staff writer Kim Ode.