Tony Fiori, Director of marketing for Ray Cammack Shows, is not one who is pessimistic about California Fairs. It seems that a week doesn't go by without articles and information about the fate of the state's events. Budget cuts in the California have hurt the largely state-supported institutions and fairgrounds have been put up for sale.
Fiori believes solutions will be found with both governmental organizations and the private sector and in the long run, the future of California Fairs will be a healthy one.
Due to date changes in 2008, RCS could no longer play the California State Fair in Sacramento and replaced it with the Antelope Valley Fair which was down a little bit from the previous year according to Fiori.
Speaking of date changes, even Fiori cannot keep up with all the date changes for California events. Asked a few questions about changes in 2010 he referred the questioner to the WFA booth for the most accurate information.
The discussion of privately owned fairs has been a big one in the last year. While the majority of fairs are non-profits or government agencies there are a healthy number of privately owned fairs in the country and several companies are cropping up recently to develop new events.
Fair Nation is one such company, and they quickly became one of the most controversial. In 2009 the State Fair of Virginia moved to a new location in Doswell, VA from its home at the Richmond International Raceway in Henrico County. Seeing an opportunity, Fair Nation President Philip Dowling decided to take a look at the former state fair site and develop a fair at the old location in the summer.
The State Fair of Virginia objected to the use of State Fair in the new venture,s name and some vendor sales practices of Fair Nation and sued the company. In a settlement, Fair Nation changed the name of the new event to the Richmond Fair.
While it may have seemed like the difficulties were over for Dowling, he learned from the Henrico County police that his security bill for the ten-day event was $435,000 and to be paid in advance of the event. Negotiations with the police department broke down and Fair Nation decided the project would not move forward at the RIR location.
Four weeks prior tot the scheduled opening of the fair, Dowling was contacted by the Department of Economic Development for the City of Richmond and invited to meet with department heads to try and save the fair and keep it in the city limits.
The city suggested the Diamond, a minor league baseball stadium as a new location and Dowling agreed to produce the fair at the new site. Over the next two and a half weeks, he went to Richmond to fulfill the requirements placed before him by the city.
One week prior to opening day, Dowling received a call from Reithoffer Shows, the carnival company for the event. They reported they had heard rumors that the City of Richmond police department would not be issuing a permit for the event. Dowling believed he had an agreement with the city to pay $104,000 for security for the event as discussed in previous meetings.
On a Friday afternoon, one week before event opening, Dowling called the police department for clarification. He spoke with an assistant chief who confirmed the permit was not being issued but would not give a reason for the decision, promising a written explanation on Monday, according to Dowling.
Later Friday and throughout the weekend, Dowling was contacted by television stations, radio stations and the local paper, the Richmond Times Dispatch, asking for statements about the situation and reaction to the information the police department had released.
A media firestorm erupted over the weekend, putting pressure on all parties and Dowling again came to Richmond, along with a representative of a private security company he had hired, to try and resolve the issue. First he attempted to meet with the mayor who was unavailable. He then went to police headquarters to speak with the police chief.
Dowling said he got a call from the media saying they had received revised information that police were now "working on" a permit. The police,s media spokesperson told Dowling the chief was unavailable and Dowling said he was willing to wait. At approximately 5:30 pm, Dowling said he was admitted for a meeting with the department.
As a result of the meeting, the department agreed to issue the permit and provide security as promised under the original agreement.
Unfortunately, in the midst of the controversy about the permits, Reithoffer Shows booked an alternate date and told Dowling they were not available to play the event anymore. Dowling met with the Diamond again to try and extend the dates for a week, which they agreed to, but finding a carnival for the event at the late date proved impossible.
Dowling said the ordeal has cost his company an amount approaching $100,000 but despite the difficulties, he remains optimistic about the business.
Dowling rebounded from his Richmond experience to produce a fair in Tupelo, MS over Labor Day weekend. This was the third year for the event and the second at BankCorp South Arena. "The show was a tremendous success", said Dowling. "Thanks in part to Gary and Frank Zaitshik and Wade Shows, we were up about 50% in both attendance and ride gross". A fourth Tupelo Fair is planned for 2010.
Dowling's premier event is the Alabama State Fair held in Pelham, AL. Ever the optimist, Dowling wryly noted that "except for the 8 ½ days of rain we did great". Non-rain days were up 50% and the fair was held over for an additional weekend where the weather again conspired against him to provide additional rain showers.
Morris Vivona's unit of Amusements of America provided the midway for the second year with 40 rides and attractions.
Looking ahead to 2010, Dowling said he will be producing the Alabama State Fair, the Tupelo Fair and he has soft commitments for 2 more fairs in the spring and two in the fall.
Fair Nation is just one of several companies that have sprung up recently to produce private events and there is a long tradition of private events that have been held over the years. The New Jersey State Fair, as well as an additional fair in Greensboro, NC, were run for many years by the Hamid family. The Meadowlands Fair, started by Marty Garin and currently run by Al D'Orso, has been one of the premier fairs in the U.S. for over 20 years. Robin Turner ran multiple successful fairs for many years before getting out of the business. Brian Schuman's Fair Productions and Mark Lovell's Universal Fairs are companies that currently run multiple events. There are privately owned fairs in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and almost every other state.
With budget cuts affecting many state and county fairs, we may be seeing more of these types of event in the years to come.
Traffic on the final day of the show was steady but not frenetic. Mike Sandlofer, who has a Frontier Show, said he did very well this year, his "best year ever". He signed the Alabama National Fair in Montgomery, the Pensacola Interstate Fair and the State Fair of Virginia.
Serge Coronas of Circus Hollywood also echoed Sandlofer,s story of success this year, reporting a lot of interest from fairs. Final numbers and wrap-up information will be collected from the IAFE in the coming week.
As the trade show came to a close, Dennis Cupp of the Rockingham County Fair said his fair, after many years with Winchester Amusements and Virginia Premier Events, had awarded its carnival contract to Deggeller Attractions.