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Coastal Carolina Fair: Nothing could be finer

1/2/2015

By Linda Van Slyke

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In the beautiful Charleston, South Carolina area, there are numerous fine attractions.  However, there is one that stands out year after year.  As many would agree:  Nothing could be finer than to be at the Coastal Carolina Fair.

Public Relations Committee member Gary Leonard explained, "The Coastal Carolina Fair actually encompasses the Greater Charleston Area, which includes three major counties: Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester.  Right now, we're in the geographic center of this tri-county area.  Some of our leaders from the 50s, 60s and 70s had the foresight to realize  that the overall population was becoming more suburban, and moved the fairgrounds in that direction."

Raison d'Etre
Right up front, the fair's website poses this key question:  "Why does Coastal Carolina Fair exist?"  Since 1957, the threefold answer has remained the same:  (1) to "raise money for local charities, scholarships and various community needs," (2) to "provide the best available family-oriented entertainment for the Low Country," and (3) to "allow our Corporate Sponsors to present their message to more than 230,000 attendees each year."

Leonard gave "some examples of things we do with the funds we raise from the fair, such as support non-profit groups in the tri-county area and maintain the fairgrounds' facilities.  This year alone, we gave $800,000 back to schools, senior centers, veterans' organizations, health- care facilities, child-welfare groups, etc.  In 2014, we supported over 81 non-profits."

"Different agencies submit grant applications to us.  Our committee members review them all, then select the annual recipients.  We choose those that we feel will improve the welfare of  our tri-county citizens."  

Leonard continued, "Sometimes we lose sight of the uniqueness of today's fairs and carnivals. Not only do families enjoy good quality entertainment in a safe and friendly environment, but they're also helping to improve the Low Country by coming."

Volunteers Make It Happen
Although versions of the Coastal Carolina Fair have been in operation since 1924, the Exchange Club of Charleston didn't assume ownership until 1957.  According to Leonard, "We are the largest all-volunteer fair in the country."

He explained, "The Exchange Club has 295 members, and each member is supposed to work 40 or more volunteer hours.  They man the exhibit areas, sell all the tickets, and have hands-on supervision responsibilities."

The Exchange Club itself has been in existence since 1923.  When its then-60 members decided to take on the Fair, their intention was to "grow the fair" in order to provide funds for "local area charities and community service events."  During the ensuing years, the Club has more than met these lofty goals.   

Leonard emphasized that the Exchange Club of Charleston is run "just like any other business organization."  He added, "Our biggest source of revenue is the fair itself, then rental of our property for other events.  We are completely self-sufficient, and work with a well-established budget.  The chairman of each committee has to send a budget to our Finance Committee for review."

Since the fair was purchased from the Charleston Agriculture and Industrial Society in 1957, it has moved four times.  The fairgrounds are now within the community of Ladson.  This current location has "more than 170 acres and parking for over 10,000 cars."

Amusements of America  
In 1958, the Exchange Club of Charleston embarked upon a search for just the right carnival operation.  After searching throughout "South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina," club members signed a contract with Amusements of America.  The fair website states that "this  relationship exists to this day."

Leonard said that Amusements of America "introduced a couple of new rides this year."  He added, "Two of their most popular adult rides were Sky Ride and Zero Gravity.  Three of their most popular kiddie rides were Wacky Worm, Far West Train and VW Cars."

Leonard also described two new popular foods for 2014.  The first was "BBQ on a Stick, a North Carolina style BBQ, wrapped in dough and deep fried, which looks similar to a Corndog."  The second was "Frosted Flakes Chicken on a Stick, which is chicken tenders dipped in Frosted Flakes and deep fried." As for entertainment, Leonard explained that it's been "very diverse, with everything from rock and roll (golden oldies from the 60s, 70s and 80s), to up-and-coming country western artists, to religious Christian music, to comedy routines.  That's what we usually draw on for the big names.  On our other stages, every night and day was filled with local singers, dancers, bands, etc."

Business Briefs
"Although we had a freakish winter storm come through on a Saturday, with temps and wind chill almost in the 30s and 40s, we kept the fair operating," Leonard said. "We had to close some rides during that time, but we fully maintained all that we could.  Fortunately, we later made up for most of the rough start."

Leonard continued, "Strategic advertising has also played a major role in our success.  This year was the first time we really went heavy into Facebook and Twitter.  We also used all three local major TV stations, along with a variety of radio stations.  There were electronic and regular billboards throughout the Charleston area, plus a flyer that went home with the water bills. Our members also distributed hundreds of decent-sized cardboard posters."

At the start of this year's fair, The Post and Courier reported the following "Admission" information:  "$8/adults; $5/children 6-12; free/5 and under.  

Handstamps for unlimited rides are $20 Sunday through Thursday and $25 on Friday and Saturday.  Coupon books are $20.  Regular price tickets are available at the gates, at Walgreens and online."  

Parking was free.  Because the lot holds 10,000 cars, it's easy to forget just where a vehicle is. The Exchange Club therefore "added lighted billboards… with pictures of items associated with the fair: candy apple, skyride, paddle boats, and so forth."  Motorists were then able to associate their parking spots with the billboard themes.

The 2015 Coastal Carolina Fair will be held October 29th through November 8th.

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