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Maricopa County Fair: Deep-fried excitement


By Linda Van Slyke

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Maybe it's because Maricopa County, Arizona is right up there with the nation's largest, in both size and population...  Wikipedia reports that this one county has a land area bigger than that of seven individual states.  Plus, it's got more people than each of 23 other states.

Maybe that's what makes for such an exciting mix.  However, the excitement of the Maricopa County Fair also flows directly through the veins of those who imbibe its most famous drink:  Deep Fried Coffee.                                                         

Gourmet Thrills
On the fair's Facebook page, there is a mouth-watering photo of this caffeinated delight.  Complete with whipped-cream swirls and a long-handled spoon (you know a drink is superb when you need a spoon in order to plow through it), Deep Fried Coffee can embolden even the most timid of souls.

The Facebook comments regarding this eye-popping treat include the following:  Most amazing dessert ever.  I am hooked, and VERY energized!  Then there's this one from a desktop drinker:  If I fry my computer with my drool, I'm coming after you guys to replace it.

While bouncing off the walls from a few sips of DFC (not to be confused with KFC), you might find your now-overstimulated digestive tract crying out for food.  Preferably comfort food...  Not to worry, there are plenty of these choices as well.

If you like mac and cheese, you'll just love the Mac Doggie Dog and the Burger Mac.  In these cases, "Mac" isn't short for McDonald's, but rather for (you guessed it) mac and cheese.  Then there's Steve's Flaming Hot Turkey Legs, not to mention Chicken and Waffles on a Stick.

For those who prefer the traditional to the innovative, these words from Executive Director (one of two, Michael Searle is the other ED) Karen Searle will sound right on target:  "I think that we are always looking for the fun and the new, but I think we'll always have the traditional as well – the corn dogs, the regular turkey legs, the cotton candy...  Food is a big part of why people come to the fair.  There's just something about eating a corn dog with the fair going on all around you that you can't get anywhere else."

Mechanized Magic  
Speaking of the fair going on all around, a huge part of this is the assortment of 38 rides provided by Butler Amusements.  What are the names of these rides?  They are cleverly embedded within a word-search puzzle that is included on the fair's Facebook page.

Searle said that traditional rides are as popular as the traditional foods.  For example, "favorites include the roller coaster, which always does very well."  Searle also mentioned the Read to Ride promotion, by which children who read four books were rewarded with free frozen custard from Culver's and four free carnival rides from Butler Amusements.

Business Buzz 
All in all, this year's Maricopa County Fair went very well.  Searle explained: "Although attendance was down about 4% from last year (most likely due to a heat wave in which the temps were over 95 degrees), 2014 still had the fourth-highest attendance within the past 10 years." 

Admission remained the same as it's been "for a long time."  Prices were listed on the 2014 Maricopa County Fair website as follows:  "$9 for 8 years old and older...  Kids 7 and under FREE..."  Searle emphasized, "All of our entertainment, even our monster trucks, is free with fair admission."

Here are some of the great promotions that were offered during the fair's run from April 9th through the 13th:  Seniors' Day was on Wednesday (with free admission for those 55 and over), Self-Guided School Field Trips were on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (with free gate admission including Farm Tours, Science Fair, Livestock Exhibits, etc. on those days), and Uniform Day (free admission for those members wearing either a Military or an organized club/team uniform) was on Wednesday.  Parking ($7 per vehicle) was not included in these special offers.

Searle explained that the fair's overall 2014 budget was "just under $700,000.  From that, "about $100,000" was spent on an advertising mix of print, some television, billboards, radio, and social media.  This year, Culver's "passed out 100,000 flyers during the week before the fair," which Searle extolled as "a new advertising angle" that had not been tried there before.

Searle also spoke about the importance of "giving back to the community."  On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday there was free admission for everyone before 3 p.m.  The fair also sponsored a two-day Canned Food Drive, during which anyone who brought three cans of food to the gate after 3 p.m. would receive a $4 admission discount.

She added:  "Since we were restructured as a nonprofit in the 1970s, the community support has continued to grow."

Lively Livestock
When asked about the fair's livestock component, Searle became very enthusiastic.  She stated:

"I certainly think that our livestock show is a very big part of who we are.  It might even be the largest one in Arizona.  No one in Arizona has done almost a million dollars, and our auction did."

"This approximately one-million dollars is a huge testament to how our community supports our children.  A child's animal might go to auction and sell for a certain dollar amount – let's say $500.  As part of the child's overall project, he or she had previously sent out buyer letters to family, friends and associates describing the project, inviting them to the auction, and explaining that if they can't make it and want to contribute, then there's an add-on form for that purpose.  So a $500 sale might actually yield $1,000 with all of the add-ons.  One of our children this year put the earnings straight into his college fund."

With successes like these, the Searles and their small-but-mighty permanent staff of "just three part-time people" are already hard at work on planning for next year's exciting events.  The 2015 Maricopa County Fair will be held from April 8th through the 12th.

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