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Delaware State Fair: A premier destination
Midway goes cashless for first time

9/9/2013

By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of DSF

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Delaware is known as "The First State" because it was the very first of the thirteen colonies to ratify the United States Constitution in 1787.  The Delaware State Fair has therefore become a premier destination for those wishing to experience the continuing wonders of this historical region.

Currently located in Harrington, a city near Dover in Kent County, the fairgrounds sit squarely within the Delmarva (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia) peninsula.  Wikipedia tells us that this Chesapeake Bay locale "is starkly different from the rest of the Mid-Atlantic."  Its unique character and rural nature make it particularly well-suited for hosting a fair.

The Delaware State Fair therefore draws crowds from neighboring states such as Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia - as well as from places around the gloPhoto By DSFbe.  As if that weren't excitement enough, the Harrington Raceway and Casino is also on the fairgrounds. This racino is open year-round, and "has over 1,800 slot machines, table games, simulcasting, live racing, and sports betting."

According to Assistant General Manager & Director of Marketing Danny R. Aguilar, attendance at this year's fair was somewhat down from 2012's.  He attributed this approximately "10 percent dip" to two main factors:  the weather, plus a less than optimal entertainment lineup for some of the days. 

When asked whether the $2 rise in gate admission (from $6 for the past seven years to $8 in 2013) also affected attendance, Aguilar replied, "It's hard to say because there are several things that you look at when you get into attendance numbers."  

The fair further explained:  "Attendance for the 2013 Fair was over 228,000 down from 2012 numbers with extremely hot weather during the first 4 days of Fair and a smaller grandstand entertainment audience than expected..." Throughout the fair's first weekend, guests "endured actual air temperatures in excess of 97 degrees..."

Wikipedia reports that the Delaware State Fair has drawn some top entertainment to Delmarva over the years.  Performers such as Toby Keith, Alan Jackson, Bill Cosby, Larry the Cable Guy, Hank Williams Jr., Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Young MC, KeSha, Carrie Underwood, Gloria Estefan, LeAnn Rimes and Demi Lovato have all been very tough acts to follow.

This year's top draws included singer-songwriter Luke Bryan, country duo Florida Georgia Line, and comedian Jeff Dunham.  Other 2013 entertainment included the Christian band Mercy Me, the rock band Three Doors Down, and country artist Trace Adkins.

There was plenty of action on the grounds as well.  Aguilar emphasized the fair's "continued commitment to offer great entertainment for the price of admission." 

In 2013 this included the following:  Circus Hollywood, Giraffic Menagerie Petting Zoo, Racing Pigs, Ice Show, Gospel Show, Kids' Health Fair, PRCA sanctioned Painted Pony Rodeo, Sounds of Summer Concert Series, Carousel Organ, mime Bill Robison, hypnotist Catherine Hickland, and juggler Roberto the Magnificent.

Although this year's carnival gross was "down slightly (less than 2%)" from 2012's, there was plenty happening on the midway as well.  Wade Shows "provided 55 attractions" - including three new rides:  an A.R.M. Rock Star, a Zamperia Surf's Up, and a Zip Line.  The dazzling LED lights helped make the Big Wheel a bright spot for all.

Wade Shows also "introduced their new cashless ticketing system in 2013."  This new system not only eliminated the need for paper tickets, but also allowed fair and carnival officials to analyze incoming data.  Real-time decisions could then be made, based upon the operational status and/or popularity of any specific ride or attraction.

Customer service was also facilitated by this cashless system.  Lost wristbands were no longer the problem they used to be.  Missing bands could now be easily tracked, voided and replaced.  Claims regarding who did or didn't get to go on what ride could now be easily processed.

Technology aside, it still takes great people - and lots of them - to create and sustain the Delaware State Fair.  Aguilar waxed eloquently about the contributions made by hundreds of  individual and organizational volunteers.  When asked what keeps them motivated, Aguilar replied, "A lot of them just love the fair so much - it's amazing to see..."

He further explained:  "First and foremost, our 80 directors on the board each contribute their unique skill sets to the undertaking.  They're all volunteers who serve on committees such as facilities, entertainment, advertising and concessions.  The full-time staff members work closely with the board, and we all keep each other well informed about short and long-range decisions."

Delaware State FairCorporate sponsors are also crucial to the fair's success.  Aguilar said, "Some look for retail opportunities - others are here for sampling purposes.  My goal is to work with each business to find out what their specific goals are.  Some might want to reach as many people as possible - others like being part of a 'brand' that stands for family and tradition."

There is a huge amount of community involvement.  Lions and Rotary Clubs both participate.  Aguilar stated, "The local school district has an opportunity to sell soda and water to the concert patrons inside the grandstand, and that's really a big fundraiser for them.  Other organizations help out with the parking."

He added, "We had three proposals take place here this year - the most we've ever had.  Each was unique in its own way - one was in the camping area, another happened during an equestrian contest.  And - they all said yes!"

Aguilar continued, "For ten days during the fair we're an extension of their families, and it's real nice to be considered as such.  There are a lot of emotions after you've been around for 94 years."

And counting...  Plans are already underway for 2014 and beyond.  Capital improvements will be made "on the exterior portion of the grounds adjacent to the grandstand," which will "open up some new areas for possible vending options."  Soon afterwards comes the Grand Centennial in which hundreds of years of Delaware heritage will merge with one hundred years of Delaware State Fair joy.  

Delaware State Fair

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