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South Texas Fair Strong Despite Attendance Dip
Carnival Americana features 50 rides


By Timothy Herrick

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An attendance dip, due mainly to unseasonable weather, only somewhat marred the South Texas Fair, held March 27 - April 6 in Beaumont, Texas. But unseasonable chilliness and rainy days was only a temporary setback, and organizers consider the 2014 South Texas Fair, the main fundraiser for the city's major civic organization, the YMBL (Young Men's Business League), to have had a positive outcome.
Chris Coletti, Executive Director, was upbeat about the fair, although he refused to provide specifics on the extent of the success of the 2014 event. "We are still collecting the data," he said. "But the fair went well. Well doesn't only mean increases in attendance or revenue."

Bad Weather
In spite of the unseasonable weather. "Overall , the weather was good," said Coletti. "We had a couple of rain days and cool weather. We broke a record on the first Saturday and Wednesday. The record was for those specific fair days."

According to a press release available on the YMBL website, Jessie Gonzales, Fair Coordinator, said that inclement and chilly weather severely impacted attendance, which dropped 15 percent in 2014 compared to 2013. A wikipedia entry says the high for the fair attendance was 2009 - the first time the South Texas Fair was held in the spring, rather than fall - reached 500,000.

Alan Cockerham, owner of Carnival Americana, who provided the Midway for the South Texas Fair, said the 2014 edition of the fair was  "on par with the last year, we got a lot of rain a few days, and then some cold weather came through southeast Texas, it was unusually cold weather."

The unseasonable temperatures and unwanted precipitation hurt attendance, but Cockerham said while the fair was negatively affected, fairgoers were ready to eat food, play games and ride rides. "Per capita spending was basically unchanged from last year. The South Texas Fair is a very good fair on my circuit, it is a good-sized fair."

South Texas Midway
Cockerham said his company has been providing the South Texas Fair midway for about 50  years, previously under the name of Bill Hames Shows.

Carnival Americana featured 50 rides at the 2014 South Texas Fair midway. "The most popular ride was the Crazy Mouse and the Tango Rides," said Cockerham. "Our company has been there a long time, and we continually bring them a variety of rides."

Because the fair takes place while school is in session, Coletti has made certain concessions with the fair to optimize participation by young people. "We open at 5 pm during the week," said Coletti. "We do have a school holiday day. We also do school field trips for elementary schools during the day and have kid friendly shows scheduled that they learn about animals, farming, along with a petting zoo."

Marketing & Entertainment
In terms of marketing the fair, Coletti added, "We used social media more this year and some Facebook contests." The fair's Facebook page, according to Coletti, has "over 15,700 likes." 

"We had the Fearless Flores Family and the Globe of Death!," said Coletti, who described them as  "Motorcycle daredevils and when they cranked their bikes people came to see.  It was awesome." Another performer was Grammy Award winner Wayne Toups (aka "The Cajun Springsteen" and "Le Boss") and his ZyDeCajun band and a  novelty musical act, a Bag of Donuts. "The South Texas Fair is unique and continues to improve," said Cockerham. "You don't need a large headliner to bring in the people. And they are providing more acts, enhancing the fair with different acts."

The South Texas Fair had 228 total vendors, offering  a range of fair from pizza to funnel cakes, corn dogs, candy apples, fried Oreos and Twinkies. According to the YMBL press release Cajun offerings are standard at the fair, including fried alligator, boiled crawfish and stuffed pistolettes. The YMBL press release stated: "Have you ever seen an onion blossom? They did at this year's fair. These treats are deep-fried and breaded and lip-smacking good (calories aren't spared). For the first time, Cuban foods were available to South Texas fairgoers. Guests just loved the pork and empanadas."

History & Calendar Change
The first South Texas State Fair took place in 1907, and has been held continually ever since, although it first became known as the South Texas State Fair in 1921. In 1942, operation of the fair was transferred to the YMBL (Young Men's Business League), a local non-profit organization and according to Coletti,  the fair has become the organization sole fundraising event. The South Texas Fair was one of the few fairs in the country to remain in operation during World War II, when it also acquired the moniker, the "YMBL Victory Fair".

In the 21st century, climate change and extreme weather events plagued the fair, including cancellations in 2005 and 2008 due to Hurricanes Rita and Ike, respectively. In 2009, the fair switched to spring from the fall, marking a permanent change in the schedule. The rodeo of the fair was always held in the Spring, and the 2009 move has meant both events now take place simultaneously. According to Coletti, the move to the Spring has meant, "a better selection of vendors as well as our open livestock shows have grown."

He added, "Has the fair been better because of the move? I guess anything is better than being shut down because of a hurricane."
Smaller Rodeo
The unique feature of most Lone Star State Fairs, the South Texas fair included, is the livestock show and rodeo and according to Cockerham, the duel-draw of the meat industry competitions and auctions combined with the cowboy tradition of rodeos, benefits the midway provider. "The strength of the rodeo is what makes a midway strong," he said. "The rodeo in Beaumont still brings in the people. It is not as a big a rodeo as some Texas fairs, but it does have a following and is strong."

And in spite of inconsistent weather and a declining attendance, his South Texas Fair experience has filled Cockerham with an optimistic enthusiasm for the 2014 fair season. "Fairs are going strong, people are going to fairs as long as fairs provide a good value," said Cockerham. "The economy and spending in Texas has been good, and I think we are going to see a strong year for fairs."

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