Fair revenues up slightly; annual meeting on Aug. 23
Call it divine intervention.
The day before the Southeast Alaska State Fair was to begin, pastor Wayne Cowart phoned the fair, saying there were 17 musicians in town interested in playing at the fair – for free.
Their availability coincided with unfilled slots at the fair’s acoustic stage. The musicians formed as many as five separate acts, including a Lithuanian hair metal band that played classic heavy metal.
“People loved them. It was a big boost. That became a real focal point on that side of the fairgrounds,” said Jessica Edwards, the fair’s executive director. “There was so much going on, people were coming up to me saying, ‘There are so many cool things, I don’t know where to go.’”
Edwards, who assumed leadership of the fair six weeks prior to the event, this week said that overall “I thought it went pretty well, from my perspective. I was going into the fair with five staffers, three of whom had never worked the fair before, and everyone did an amazing job.”
Final attendance figures aren’t compiled yet, but gate receipts appear to be up 2 percent from last year, she said. “The overall numbers are just about the same as last year, all things considered, in terms of income.”
A report on this year’s fair and election to four director seats on the eight-member fair board will be held during the fair’s annual membership meeting starting 5:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23 at Harriett Hall. A volunteer appreciation dinner will follow at 6:30 p.m.
Warmth and sunshine that sent dozens of fairgoers seeking the shade on the east side of McPherson Barn helped this year’s fair, Edwards said. “The weather was huge. It was the nicest fair for all four days that I – or anyone else – could remember.”
Issues to address for next year’s fair include reworking scheduling to ensure that acts at stages don’t conflict with each other and possibly shifting some of Saturday’s events – for example, the Wearable Art Show – to Friday. “My thought is to try to grow Friday. There’s a lot of room to do more things on Friday.”
The future of the Raven Arena, and what goes on there, also needs to be addressed. Edwards said she hasn’t given up on a horse show. Thunder Mountain Riders of Juneau put one on three years ago and there were inquiries this year from Whitehorse residents. “I’ll be talking to them about the potential,” she said. Concerns include rebuilding the arena fence and bringing in sand to soften the surface. “There’s some obstacles but we would like to have a horse show and we’re willing to work with groups.”
Other projects include decisions about the Kids’ Stage following demolition of its walls and roof earlier this year, and the future of the fairgrounds’ gravel pit area, and another look at parking. The pit will be closed Oct. 1, Edwards said. “We’ll make a strategic plan for that whole area of the property. We have a lot of recreation requests for that property.”
There’s a need for more space at the fairgrounds during the fair, she said. “We’re short on space for things like the puppet show when the National Guard wants to use Raven Arena. We’re looking at the parking lot in front of Harriett Hall, but other than that, there’s just not a lot of free, open space during those four days.”
On final count, the number of exhibits appears to be up a little from last year. There were 742 exhibits, including 196 from out of town.
Edwards is hoping to travel to Southeast communities in the coming year to help promote the event and stimulate interest in submitting exhibits. The logistics of shipping exhibits to Haines can be a hurdle, she said. “So much of the individual requirements for shipping things here depends on the people working at (Alaska Marine Lines) and the airport.” The paperwork involved can seem mystifying, she said.
Out-of-town exhibitors have been particularly excited by the fair’s cooperation with the Alaska State Fair in Palmer to forward the best entries in Haines to the fair in Palmer, she said. This year, 27 fair entries will be shipped north.
The fair has about 150 members and enjoys “excellent” support from the business community, particularly businesses like lodges that benefit directly from the event. Edwards said she was “wringing her hands” hoping a proposed new hotel on Main Street materializes.
“Lodging is so tight, we’re definitely losing visitation because of it,” she said.
Edwards said she also hoped to work with state ferry officials to ensure sailings on Sunday night that encourage weekend visitors to stay for its entire duration.
While some fairgoers complained about odors from the adjacent sewer plant, that wasn’t an issue for Edwards. “I have a poor nose. I can’t really smell. It has to be really bad.”
Saturday farmers markets under Payson’s Pavilion at the fairgrounds continue through Sept. 14.