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Attendance & spending down at the Illinois State Fair
NAME's Mega Pass sales up despite poor weather

10/13/2014

By Linda McNatt

Photo courtesy of

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Since 1853, the people of Illinois have been gathering together every summer to celebrate agriculture.

The Illinois State Fair, held this year from August 7 through August 17, had more than 10,000 farm animals at the 366-acre fairgrounds in Springfield, said fair manager Amy Bliefnick.

Admission to the fair was $7 for adults and $3 for children and senior citizens. Parking was $7, she said.

There were plenty of opportunities to find specials on the admission cost throughout the 11-day fair event. Veterans Day, when veterans and their families were admitted free, was on August 16. August 17 was senior citizens and Scout day, when those groups were admitted free.  Admission was $3 for all on August 23, which was Family Day.

Also celPhoto By ebrated was Agriculture Day, Governor's Day, Republican Day, Futures for Kids Day and Park District Conservation Day.

The fair was initially funded by $1,000 in the 1800s, with the money coming from the state treasury, Bliefnick said. The Illinois State Agriculture Society was formed, and that organization took over the managing of the fair until eventually the State Department of Agriculture took charge, the same organization that oversees the fair today.
"The fair today is a lot of different things for a lot of different people," said Bliefnick. "It's actually pretty comprehensive."

About 890,000 people attended the Illinois State Fair of 2014, according to Bliefnick. The number is slightly down from last year, she said, and she believes that has a lot to do with the weather. "We had rain eight out of eleven days of the fair," she said. "It just rained."

It wasn't enough rain to close anything down, but it did apparently keep some away from the fair who might have otherwise attended.

Even the midway was slightly down. North American Midway Entertainment provided the midway. Bliefnick, who has been with the Illinois State Fair for 10 years, said she was uncertain how long North American has been with them.

But Pat Repp, who is with North American Midway Entertainment, said the company has been serving the Illinois State Fair for more than 20 years.

The midway was down this year by about six percent, Repp said, and "overall, I felt very happy we were down by only six percent." "It's a nice state fair in Illinois," he said. "The weather just wasn't quite on our side this year. But we got through it, and we did well."

North American took 47 rides to the Illinois Fair, he said. What was up a bit in sales was the new Megapass system that is offered by North American. The card that is issued for rides looks something like a driver's license, he said, with the owner's picture on it.

"It serves the same purpose as an armband," said Repp. And despite the fact that overall midway sales were down somewhat, there was an increase in the number of Megapass cards purchased. The system has been available for only the past two years, he said.

North American Midway Entertainment is an international company with corporate headquarters in Farmland, Indiana. The company provides rides games and food to fairs and festivals in 132 communities in 20 states and four Canadian provinces.

Fair officials said there were more than 200 food vendors, providing a selection of foods for the taste of just about everybody.

As for the stage entertainment, more than 15,000 people attended the Florida Georgia Line concert, said Bliefnick, making that concert one of the most popular of the entire entertainment lineup.

Florida Georgia Line is an American country duo made up of Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard. One of the duo's most recent albums is "Here's to the Good Times."

The fairgrounds cover 366 acres with 171 exhibit buildings. The fair also provides a campgrounds for those attending the fair. There are 300 sites available that can accommodate motor homes, RVs, fifth wheels and tents with electric and water and limited sewer hookups. Shower facilities and restrooms are also available. Security monitors the Illinois State Fairgrounds twenty-four hours a day.

Fair officials emphasized that the state fair this year had many free and inexpensive activities for families. Attractions called Kids Corner and Farmer's Little Helper both offered a free, safe environment for parents to relax as their children played. Kids Korner had puppet shows, marionette shows and storytellers to keep kids entertained as well as face painting booths and other games and activities.

Farmer's Little Helper let children experience the life of a farmer. They would gather fake eggs, milk a simulated cow and even receive a token for a free treat as payment for taking their crops to market.

In nearby Happy Hallow, fairgoers were invited to enjoy free music, according to a press release. There were also magic and animal shows daily. Attractions included Wildlife Wendy and her Tropical Birds, the Swampmaster Gator Show and a Wolf Pack exhibit featuring live wolves.

The free petting zoo included a zebra, a llama and sheep.

Bliefnick said the fair was advertised through the State Fair website, through social media, newspapers, radio and television. She said she was uncertain of the amount of the advertising budget. 

The Illinois State Fair is held in Springfield, Illinois, three hours south of Chicago.

Temperatures during the fair were in in 70s and low 80s, she said, absolutely perfect to stroll the ground, ride the rides or do anything else fairgoers desired to do.
And, just as promised in the early days, the fair in 2014 was true to its agricultural roots, with great representation from local school children who were members of 4H. The famous Illinois State Fair butter cow was displayed throughout the event.

The agricultural side of the fair was highlighted when the steer in the junior livestock show brought $100,000 on the auction block. It was the first time in the history of the fair that an animal has been sold for such an extraordinary amount.

AT&T, Monsanto and DeKalb combined to bid $100,000 for 12-year-old Shaelye Varner's grand champion crossbred steer. The price easily surpassed the former record of $62,000, which was set just last year, and it was one of four records broken during this sale. 

In all, the sale raised an amazing $260,095 for not only the junior producers who raised the champion animals, but also the 4-H and FFA programs. Each organization received 10 percent of the proceeds.


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