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Resurrecting the Pinellas County Fair
Fair continues to grow after 12-year hiatus

4/1/2013

By Linda Van Slyke

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Steve White is humble about his role in bringing back the Pinellas County Fair, now in its second year after a 12-year hiatus.  Although obviously a key spark in the fair's rekindling, White was hesitant to claim kudos.  Instead, he waxed eloquently about community support, teamwork, rides, entertainment, food, exhibits and contests, saying "everyone was very helpful and cooperative to rebuild this fair."

"Build it and they will come" certainly applies in this case.  Animal enthusiasts (particularly those impressed by razor-sharp teeth) eagerly flocked to where Kachunga and The Alligator were strutting their stuff.

Watching Kachunga (billed as "a real American Bushman" wrestle a nine-foot, 300-pound gator is not for the faint of heart.  In addition, there are numerous media claims that "Kachunga makes Crocodile Dundee look like a wimp."   Although this might sound like a fight to the finish, rest assured safety for all concerned is a top priority, and neither man nor beast is harmed in the process.

The Welde's Big Bear Show was also a featured act. Welde's bears [grizzlies, every last one...] range in size from 200lbs to 1200lbs, according to the show's website.  These are not your average pets, and neither are they your average bears.  Their repertoire includes such stunts as using ladders, skateboards, hoops and balancing balls to entertain the crowds.  Other kids have their teddy bears to come home to, but generations of Welde youngsters have learned firsthand how to truly respect grizzlies. 

Training methods are based upon "patience, reward, love and understanding."   A deep regard for all wildlife is a major theme of the show, which educates the public "through entertainment to promote the preservation of some of God's most beautiful and important creatures."

The Pinellas County Fair has also shown a great enthusiasm for community talent.  Local youth were especially encouraged to participate in such venues as art, music, agriculture, horticulture, and home economics.  Citizens of all ages were also welcome to showcase their achievements.

Organizers of the various events and competitions included a wide range of eagerly-anticipated categories; Arts and Crafts, Photography, Textiles, Battle of the Bands, Dance Competition, etc., but they also came up with some innovative surprises.

One that took the cake was the Chocolate Chip Cookie Competition. 
These delectable entries had to be submitted on either paper plates or cardboard, and were judged in the following three ways:  best tasting, largest diameter, and - many a fairgoer's favorite - most chocolaty. 

An opportunity to work off those extra-chocolaty calories could then be had by joining the Easter Bonnet Contest and Parade.  Bonnets had to be handmade except for the base, and prizes were awarded for the "most unique, most beautiful, and most jaw-droppingly hilarious".

Ecologically-oriented folks were especially drawn to the Recycled Yard Art contest, the stated goal of which was to "increase environmental awareness and encourage reuse/recycling of materials into yard art."  Two and three-dimensional pieces of art were composed mostly of recycled items such as wheels, pails, clothing, and various and sundry other household items.  The finished pieces had to be "positive in content and expression" and "able to withstand outdoor elements." 

The four entry categories were Elementary School, Middle School, High School, and Post High School.

Because of the fair's rebirth, the Remember When Book Event was especially appropriate.

Subtitled "Glance Back, Gaze Ahead: A New Beginning," this event was particularly geared toward those who had attended past Pinellas County Fairs.  Participants were encouraged to write about what they saw, did and enjoyed the most - as well as what was funny, scary, and/or unforgettable.  These accounts will then be gathered into a one-time booklet titled "Fairgoers Point of View."

Given all of the wonderful components of this year's PCF comeback, Steve White is more than satisfied.  The 2013 budget was in the neighborhood of $130K, $40K of which was spent on electronic and social media (radio, billboards, Facebook, Twitter, Internet ads).

Private funding came from White's Event Marketing Corporation.  A nonprofit organization is being developed in order to help support educational events such as school exhibits.

Next year's location is also being discussed.  White said that Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg is great, but not quite centrally located for much of the county's population.  Moving the fair somewhat northward is therefore an option that is under consideration by event organizers

Frank Zaitshik's Wade Shows provided the midway for the first time this year.  The show had several spectacular rides and improved the midway with guest amenities that were popular with guests.

Although enthusiasm was in the air, the clouds rained supreme.  The one downside of this year's fair according to Zaitshik and White was the weather.

Florida's legendary sunshine didn't quite come through as hoped for the first three days of the fair.  Zaitshik added that even the last two days "had a high prediction of rain."  However, spirits were far from dampened.  When the sun came out, the crowds followed.

White's goal in growing the newly re-founded event is to bring out crowds by keeping gate admission low and providing many free entertainment events for the guests. White partnered with Walgreens stores to offer discounted ride and admission tickets throughout the county.

This time around, PCF's mission was to continue celebrating rural and urban heritages while cultivating an innovative future through education and leadership. By White's account, the fair accomplished its mission and the Pinellas County Fair is back and once again on right on track.

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