British entertainer Piers Morgan may not have been a big fan when the Funny Little People first appeared on America's Got Talent a few years back. Morgan buzzed the group out and prevented them from going on to television stardom.
But that hasn't prevented these strange little people who dance and lip sync before live audiences - wearing their huge heads and colorful outfits - from gaining popularity. The group has now entertained in 30 states plus China and Puerto Rico. They average about 1,500 shows a year.
The Funny Little People were a major attraction recently at the St. Lucie County Fair, held in Ft. Pierce, Florida from February 28 through March 9, said Jeanne Keaton, the fair's general manager for 22 years. The group made daily appearances and were among the many successes of the fair this year, said Keaton.
"We had a great fair, the best I can remember in years," she said. "Our advance sales were up by 8.2 percent, gate sales up by 5 percent, midway sales were up by 8.9 percent. We had good weather. I think the weather was a big part of our success."
There were major storm warnings in the area one day, she said. On Thursday, March 6, fair officials had to delay the opening of the fair from 4 to 6 p.m. By the time the gates opened when the storms had cleared out, most people had lost interest in attending the fair that night, said Keaton.
But it worked out all right since the fair was packed the rest of the time. Average attendance at the St. Lucie Fair is usually between 119,000 and 130,000 people, according to Keaton. Although the official numbers are still to be determined, she said she believes the numbers will be in excess of 145,000 this year.
Fair admission was $10 for adults, $3 for children ages 6 to 12 and children under 6 years old were admitted free. Senior citizens and veterans were admitted for $5. You could purchase a mega band for $80, which included gate admission and unlimited midway rides. A daily unlimited ride band was available for $25. The Midnight Madness armband was sold for the same price.
Deggeller Attractions opened the midway for the first St. Lucie County Fair held in February 1966. That's when the Gingham Girls, young girls dressed in gingham outfits, acted as official greeters and hostesses at the fair. That tradition continued until 1985, when the first fair queen was selected and today the greeting court dresses in the traditional outfit for the area, blue jeans, western boots and a bouquet of roses is added for the queen and her court.
Over the next two decades, additional buildings sprang up and 20 acres of additional parking was added to the original property located adjacent to the St. Lucie County Airport . In October 1999, the fair purchased 250 acres at the intersection of Okeechobee and Midway roads, in the center of Ft. Pierce. Construction began at the new location in 2002. The ‘02 fair was the last held at the airport location. The 2003 fair in the new location was put together in a hurried manner but was "just about flawless." Revenue for gate attendance for that fair nearly doubled that of the previous year.
"I think a big part of our success depends on consistency," said Keaton. "We're consistent with our vendors - 95 percent of our vendors return each year. I don't allow more than two of one specialty at a time. Beef tips, pizza, two ice creams. That's it. Our most popular foods this year were probably the fried vegetables and the beef tips."
The midway provider for 2014 was the James E. Strates Shows, now in it's seventh year at the fair. The company brings in almost 50 rides for both children and adults, said Keaton. The rides are spread in the midway area over the 250-acre fairgrounds. The company is based in Orlando, Florida and has been in business since 1923.
The fairgrounds are large enough to accommodate multiple events at one time. When all of the projects are finally completed, the St. Lucie County fairgrounds will be the second largest fairgrounds in the state of Florida. Fair officials have always been proud of the agricultural exhibits and the youth exhibits. In 2005, student Evan Miller sold his hog for $46 a pound. In the same year, Ryan Holley sold his steer for $10.50 a pound. Agricultural exhibits include beef, swine, horses, small animals, steers, and the pee wee pig show.
"We are a blue collar, agricultural area with plain, everyday people." said Keaton. "We can depend on the people who live here to attend the fair, and we have a very minute number of residents who are winter people."
Ft. Pierce is the county seat of St. Lucie County. The population of the county in 2012 was listed in the census as 42,645 people.
The fair was advertised primarily - about 80 percent - through electronic media, Keaton said. She said fair fans are calling by early January if she hasn't posted the fair website. About 20 percent of the advertising budget went to print media. Keaton said she also takes heavy advantage of the cash budget/trade budget philosophy.
"Budgets are irrelevant to anything," she said.
"We had a good year, a good time, good weather," she said. "It was easy, problem free. The temperature highs were in the low to mid 80s, very nice."
The fair was open each night until midnight, and it was usually packed up until closing.
Now, Keaton and fair officials have almost a year to get ready for the 2015 fair, an event which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the St. Lucie County Fair.
"We will have a lot of promotions that involve the number fifty," said Keaton. "People will just have to wait until next March and see."