Fairs freshen up to broaden appeal USA Today, 07347456, JUL 11, 2006
MAS Ultra - School Edition
Fairs freshen up to broaden appeal
State and county festivals pinched by competition
Section: News, Pg. 01a
State and county fairs hurt by financial problems and falling attendance are trying to attract young, urban audiences this summer by adding skateboard-decorating contests, Harry Potter displays and ethnic foods to traditional offerings.
"We've got to come up with something unique," says Larry Gabriel, agriculture secretary in South Dakota, where some legislators considered shutting down the money-losing state fair. "It's never going to get easy to keep a fair operating, because we're competing against so many more events."
Competition comes from amusement parks, casinos and vacation destinations such as Branson, Mo., and Las Vegas, he says.
The Caswell County, N.C., fair closed last year, one year short of its 50th anniversary. The final fair drew only 2,000 people over five days. In Michigan, nearly half of 88 local and county fairs lost money last year, says E.J. Brown of the Michigan Association of Fairs & Exhibitions.
Rising costs for fuel and insurance contribute to fairs' budget problems. Most fairs are subsidized by county or state governments. Some fairs are adjusting to tough times by shortening their runs or rescheduling to the July Fourth or Labor Day holidays. Many are updating exhibits and contests. Some fairs are enlivening their core focus by adding animal birthing centers and milking parlors.
Max Willis of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions says the group doesn't track fairs' bottom lines. Fairs are trying "to appeal to their clientele," he says. "They have to keep up with the times."
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New kinds of fun on schedule
Many county fairs are updating activities:
*The Wilson County, Tenn., fair has contests for decorated skateboards and text messaging.
*A new wine bar at the Wisconsin State Fair features jazz and blues music.
*A "cellfest" at the Marin County, Calif., fair includes videos and photos created by fairgoers on their cellphones. There's also a Harry Potter-inspired exhibit with a 20-foot rotating cavern.
*South Dakota's state fair dropped rodeos because of sinking attendance. Now it hosts championship bull riding, broadcast on the Outdoor Channel. The fair runs five days, down from eight.
*Mexican and Middle Eastern food are a trend at New England fairs, says Bob Silk of the New Hampshire Association of Fairs and Expositions. "People are getting away from just eating the sausage, french fries and fried dough," he says.
(c) USA TODAY, 2006