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Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival: How sweet it is!

4/17/2015

By Linda Van Slyke

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Ever worry about having a date for Valentine's Day?  Those who attended this year's Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival (February 13th through 22nd) had all the dates they could possibly want, and then some.

In fact, the Festival begins each year with a traditional Blessing of the Dates ceremony.  The website explains that "prayers for the date palms, the safety of the workers and equipment" are then offered. 

Dates to Remember
The famous Coachella Valley in Southern California's Riverside County is all-around yummy.  Fans of the cacao bean might find their mouths watering at the sight of the colorful Chocolate Mountains.  Fans of 1001 Arabian Nights might find their lips smacking at the sight of the valley's huge date crop.

Wikipedia explains that the Arabian connection began about 1890 when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) "imported date palm shoots from Iraq and Egypt" to the Coachella Valley.  Then in 1903, 1908 and 1912, the USDA planted additional shoots from Algeria.

These early USDA efforts were the literal roots of today's thriving date industry.  The Coachella Valley is now "the primary date-growing region in the United States, responsible for nearly 95 percent of the nation's crop."

Along with dates, the valley is famous for its vast array of fruits and vegetables.  Some of the more exotic crops include Coachella grapefruits, pomegranates, mangoes, kohlrabi, dandelions (salad greens), persimmons, sugar cane, avocados and figs.

For those who prefer their dates to be of the human kind, there's plenty to do in Riverside County.  "With more than 350 days of sunshine per year and the warmest winters in the western US," the Coachella Valley is hopping year round.

Midway Marvels
Kimberly Douglas, Assistant Marketing Manager of the Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival, explained, "We encourage a great date presence on the grounds, not just in our displays, but with our food vendors as well.  We ask them to incorporate at least one date item onto their menus, which results in such goodies as funnel cakes and cinnamon rolls with date toppings, stuffed dates, and the ever-popular date shakes."

She continued, "This 'date presence' is enhanced by our nightly Arabian Nights community pageant.  The story line changes a bit, but it's always based on the 1001 Arabian Nights."  The fair website adds, "These stories filled with magical tales of genies, destinies, and fortunes will wow crowds each night." 

The Arabian theme was further displayed by the crowning of Queen Scheherazade and her "court" (i.e., Princess Dunyazade and Princess Jasmine).  Douglas said, "We had our annual President's Day Parade, and Queen Scheherazade had her own float.  Not only that, Stanley Cup Champion and one-time LA Kings Captain Luc Robitaille was our Grand Marshal." 
 
Douglas went on to say that the Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival has been working with Butler Amusements for years.  She added, "They had a couple of new carnival rides this year; the Pirate Jet was one, and the Spinning Family Coaster was definitely a big hit.  They also had a couple of rides from Michael Jackson's Neverland."  

"Although overall fair attendance was down slightly this year, we had great revenue on the carnival and concession end."

What Worked Well
This year's 69th Fair & Festival offered a unique fundraising opportunity to non-profits.  The website explains:  "Non-profit organizations receive $ .50 per each advance-sale admission ticket sold and $ 1.00 per advance-sale carnival admission ticket and season pass sold."  Non-profit organizations that did this in 2014 collectively gained more than $21,000.

The Fair is run by the Economic Development Agency of Riverside County and  the local Fantasy Springs Resort Casino was its Presenting Sponsor.  As such, the Casino contributed $150,000 and received a wide range of high-profile advertising benefits.  Douglas mentioned that fairgoers just loved the $5 "Fantasy Fridays" that the Casino sponsored.

Douglas added, "We have group sales with bus tours that come to the fair.  Many seniors come from the Los Angeles area, which is only a couple of hours drive from here.  We've also had groups come in from Arizona because we're not so far from that border."  Parking for these buses is free.

Other successful endeavors included free admission for the first five hours on opening day, veterans plus three guests admitted free every day with proper identification, plus Canada Day.  Douglas stated, "We have a lot of folks come to the desert from Canada, and Canadian residents get in for free on that Tuesday."

Douglas explained, "A breakdown of our advertising budget is as follows:  17% TV, 21% Newspaper, 20% Radio, 21% Billboard, and 21% Miscellaneous (banners/signs, graphic design, promo items, etc.)."

Needless to say, even the best of promotional campaigns is only as good as what's behind it.  And that's plenty in this case.  Patrons of the Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival are treated to way more than their money's worth.  Douglas said, "Our fair has some really great headliners such as Brett Eldredge, Ramon Ayala, and The Commodores.  We include all the concerts with the fair admission."

There are also special exhibits such as the Miniature Operating Trains.  A press release states, "Celebrating their 25th year at the Fair, the Coachella Valley Model Railroaders have expanded their display...  Guests will be impressed with the precision, detail, and sheer amount of time put into this hobby."

All of this seems hard to top, but the Fair committee is already hard at work for next year's 70th anniversary.  What's on tap?  Douglas isn't saying just yet.  But she promises that it will be great.


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