Numbers drop at state fair


Gate revenues at the 47th Southeast Alaska State Fair appear to be down about 12 percent from last year, but executive director Jessica Edwards said this week she doesn’t expect that to become a trend.

“I think we put on a marvelous event this year. I think the buzz was good. I hope the reverberation from it will translate into better attendance next year,” Edwards said Tuesday.

The lack of weekend fast ferry service from Juneau may have changed the plans of fairgoers from the Capital City, Edwards said. “The fast ferry makes the trip much more doable for people.”

A “dismal” weather forecast and the reduced value of the Canadian dollar also may have factored into the drop in numbers, which roughly matched those of 2012, she said. That not all local lodgings were booked for the weekend was evidence of the drop, she said.

Stacy Smith, co-manager of the new Aspen Hotel, which lies within a few blocks of the fairgrounds, told the CVN the place was booked full Saturday night, but not on Thursday and Friday.

Noting that she made special efforts to market the fair in Juneau, fair director Edwards said she planned to put more emphasis on recruiting in Whitehorse, Y.T., in the coming year. “With the road link, people from Whitehorse have a lot more flexibility in terms of when they come and how long they’re going to stay.”

But she also noted that the increase in numbers and popularity of summer music festivals elsewhere in the region might be taking a bite out of attendance.

Because gate revenue is the fair’s biggest single source of income, the drop will affect fair funding, but not significantly. The fair has built up a small reserve in recent years to cover revenues lost to bad weather and other factors, Edwards said.

Edwards said the fair itself “went very smoothly,” including with volunteers, fair program areas and the front gate. “It’s getting better every year. I felt like there was a lot less running around this year.”

The new climbing tower was busy for the duration of the fair, Edwards said. She also said she was pleased with entertainment and food booth offerings. Rough spots included a medical emergency involving a youth who stopped breathing and power outages that quieted the main stage and made two food booths switch to generator power. Both occurred Thursday evening.

“We got all of the excitement out of the way on the fair’s first day,” Edwards said.

Plans for next year include improving the look and function of the admission gates, improvements to sound on the main stage, rebuilding aging vendor booths, and adding focus to the livestock program in McPherson Barn.

“It’s such a cool part of the fair and so many people don’t have animals in their lives. We could maybe bring in more guest critters or hold more programs in the barn,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the fair expects to have a zip line going by next year’s event. Staff ran out of time to get an affordable insurance quote, she said. One quote the fair received was $3,000 for four days’ insurance. The ride couldn’t break even at that price, she said.

While staging more rides or events is generally a goal of the fair, the challenge can be finding volunteers to man those activities, she said.

Fair members and others with suggestions for next year’s fair are welcome to attend the non-profit’s upcoming membership meeting. The fair will hold its annual membership meeting and volunteer appreciation dinner at the fairgrounds’ Harriett Hall on Friday, Aug. 28. The membership meeting begins 5 p.m. and dinner starts at 6 p.m.


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