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Hot time at the county fair

By Staff | Jul 31, 2016

This fire in a demolition derby car was not the only hot thing at the Faribault County Fair. Temperatures reached the 90s for three days of the fair, and humidity covered the festivities as well.

An admitted shortage in profits and attendance rocked the Faribault County Fair this year, and all fingers are pointing to none other than Mother Nature for the dropoff.

“It was miserably hot,”?says Sara Gack, president of the county fair board. “Nature kind of dealt us an interesting hand, and our attendance was down.”

High humidity levels left the fairgrounds under a blanket of thick air for much of the July 19-23 festivities, and the result was a downturn in both food and show ticket sales.

Trinity Lutheran Church’s stand, in its second year of operation since reopening, remained a hotspot for loyal customers and its signature hot beef plate. But Dave Kittleson, in charge of the Trinity stand, took notice of a sharp decline in customers.

“Last year, we were so popular with it reopening that we actually paid off the new stand,”?he said, “but this year, sales were down, and there’s nothing you can do about the weather.”

If you think you had a tough time beating the heat and humidity at the Faribault County Fair, try wearing your full winter coat around the fairgrounds, like this alpaca had to do. Care was provided to all the animals at the fair to keep them as cool as possible.

Hope United Methodist Church had its own challenges from a profit perspective. Bruce Ankeny, who volunteered to coordinate the church’s food stand, says Hope “probably did a fourth of the business we did last year.”

The last two days of the fair, Ankeny said, were significantly better in terms of drawing in customers. In contrast to more than $4,000 in profits from 2015, however, the stand may have come short of $1,000 this year.

In the fair’s beer garden, things were a little better but still paled in comparison to sales of years past.

“I think we’ll pretty much be breaking even,”? says Carl Carlson, a fair board member and the director of the garden. “You just couldn’t stand sitting there, but we have no control over Mother Nature.”

Vern Draheim, fair board member and director of food vending, agreed.

“You could just see the attendance was down, and food vendors made less sales than other years,”?he says, “but I?didn’t run into anyone that blamed it on the fair. They all understood it was the weather.”

Outside of Saturday’s fan favorite Demolition Derby and July 19’s United Pullers event, the fair’s slate of daily entertainment also suffered the consequences of uncomfortable heat.

Several activities, including the dog show, were cancelled because of the humidity, while others were simply cut short due to an absent audience. Headlining bands, including Rubber Soul and Church of Cash, still performed, albeit with spotty crowd support.

“The entertainment was good,”?Gack said, “but we also had the bands on the three hottest nights of the week.”

Empty rows of seats in the grandstand, then, left the fair without much of a chance to make up for costs to bring the bands to this year’s event.

“It’s going to hurt,”?Gack said. “But you can’t do much about it now. You book the stuff and hope for the best, and we tried to make the best of it.”

In planning for next year, Gack said the fair board will reevaluate entertainment options as usual, but planning around unforeseen conditions, like this year’s weather, would simply be a guessing game.

One thing the fair could have working in its favor, however, is the draw of vendors who offered relief from the heat during daylong events.

“The 4-H building, from what I?saw, was packed at times,”?Kittleson said, highlighting the appeal of the dining hall’s air conditioning. “And also, by Saturday, the dairy stand had closed because they were out of everything.”

A heavy supply of AC?and milkshakes may have gotten the job done for those outlets, but better weather and increased crowds, of course, would help support the fair as a whole. And, just as changing this year’s turnout cannot be done, Gack says plans for 2017 must revolve around only what can be controlled.

“We just have to plan it and hope for the best.”