The week after Thanksgiving is the time for the annual International Association of Fairs and Expositions gathering in Las Vegas. The show is the largest gathering of major fairs in the country. The convention, held at the Paris convention center, has dozens of roundtables and classes for education for every aspect of the fair from marketing to livestock. Another highlight of the convention is the annual trade show, where hundreds of exhibitors vie for the attention of some of North America,s largest events.
At the same time the trade show is being held on the convention floor, the Showmen,s League of America also holds their trade show, geared more towards carnivals and their suppliers. This show, much more subdued than the IAFE trade show,s noise and clamor, offers vendors the opportunity to spend some quality time with carnival owners and concessionaires. The show mostly consists of simple tables with table cards identifying each exhibitor.
2011 was a very interesting year for fairs. There were tragic lows brought on by storms and mother nature. The North Dakota State Fair, Ionia Free Fair and Bloomsburg (PA) Fair were all canceled in 2011 and many others were affected by heavy rain and flooding. A different story however was told by many other events. Many of the fairs on the MCW Top 50 list had record years, especially many in the western part of the United States. The Orange County Fair, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Alameda County Fair all broke attendance records, as did several others on the Top 50. The Florida State Fair, rebounding from bad weather, was up 37.3% the orange County Fair was up 21.2%, the Miami-Dade County Fair, Illinois State Fair, Iowa State Fair and Pensacola Interstate Fair were all up double digits but leading the way, with a 37.5% increase and all-new attendance record, was the Wilson County (TN) Fair.
Located on I-40 20 miles east of Nashville, the Wilson County Fair, based in Lebanon, TN has seen steady growth over the past several years. Hale Moss, President of Wilson County Promotions, Inc., the organization that produces the fair said the success of the fair is due in part to the uncertainty with the future of the Tennessee State Fair, located in Nashville, reasonable advertising rates in the metro area, a great mix of entertainment and volunteers, an outstanding midway in Amusements of America and perfect weather.
In fact, on the second Saturday of the nine-day event, the fair set a one day attendance record of 109,000, pushing the fairgrounds at the James E. Ward Agricultural and Community Center almost to its limits.
The fair boasts only one large concert a year. This year, Bates Ford sponsored Jon Anderson on the main stage. The rest of the fair, local and regional artists can be found all around the fairgrounds as well as plenty of good old-fashioned county fair entertainment.
Moss said the fair had 50 or more food vendors with a very good variety of every fried food and items dipped in chocolate that you can find.
The Wilson County Fair is the three-time recipient of the "Champion of Champions" award, the highest honor presented to a Tennessee Fair. The have been listed on MCW,s Top 50 list for the last three years and they were recently named as one of the Top Ten Summer Fairs in the United States.
Amazingly, this event has been run for the past thirty years by an all-volunteer fair board.
Another top-notch event, run completely by volunteers, is the Coastal Carolina Fair of Ladson, SC. The event is run by the Exchange Club of Charleston, with 273 members, they are the largest Exchange Club in the nation.
The fair is held on an 173-acre park and grounds, owned exclusively by the Exchange Club. They rent the grounds throughout the year and the fair and grounds are completely self-supporting. They do not rely on any government assistance for operation. In fact, the fair gives a portion of its profits to many charitable organizations in the tri-county area.
The fair is now in its 55th year of operation. They started in the downtown Charleston area and moved to Ladson, taking a chance on a then out of the way facility. The bet paid off and the fair has never looked backed.
After a fist year with Strates Shows, the fair signed Amusements of America and has been with the Vivona family for the past 54 years. Jerry Pitts, chairman of midway operations and safety, and a 40-year veteran of the fair, said the carnival had a record year in 2011 and the Exchange Club rewarded A of A with a new contract extension. Pitts has worked over the years with all of the Vivona brothers and now works closest with Robbie Vivona, son of Phil and the late Carol Vivona, who has taken a lead role at the Coastal Carolina Fair. Robbie,s cousins Marco, Dominic Jr. and Morris Jr. also work with the fair, following in the footsteps of their fathers.
In 2011, the Exchange Club made improvements to the parking lots, helping with ingress and egress. New roads and entrances were added, and the fair is now able to park cars in multiple lots at a time. Parking circles the fairgrounds, coming back out to the road on the other side of the grounds.
President Carl Schultz and the Exchange Club were proud to report that 2011 was a good year for the fair. They experienced a little rain and cold on the first Friday of the event but other wise the weather was excellent.
With approximately 250,000 annual visitors, Pitts believes the event is the largest all-volunteer fair in North America. They operate without any paid fair employees.
MCW had the opportunity to interview other fairs, carnival owners and vendors during our visit to the IAFE trade show. We will continue our coverage of the convention and trade show in our coming articles. Be sure to view our newly released 2011 Top 50 Fair list by clicking here to see how the largest events faired in 2011.