The Salem Fair, billed asthe largest free gate fair in America, kicked off with a rough start this season.
The well-known Virginia fair ran from July 3 through July 15. Opening night was a bit of a disappointment, as the 14-acre fairgrounds was forced to shut down due to an onslaught of storms that ruined the festivities.
“The biggest challenge that always faces the Salem Fair is the weather,” says Fair Manager Carey Harveycutter. “We have experienced half our days being affected by substantial rain just prior to opening that caused power outages region-wide for up to ten days, and extremely hot days. If we have good weather, crowds follow.”
Attendance was down by 8 percent because of the weather, but also in part due to the fact that the fair closed an hour earlier this year. The 2018 fair was slated for a 13-day run instead of a 12-day run, which meant less staff members were on hand to help out. Because of this, the fair closed at 10 p.m. instead of 11, and it is suspected that the early closure may have additionally had a negative impact on crowd size as well as concession sales.
A regionally-based agricultural fair that is situated in the western part of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Salem Fair is said to be the largest fair in the state. Several non-profits benefit from the fair and for 2018 patrons were said to have donated 7,000 pounds of non-perishable food to the Salem-Roanoke County Food Pantry. Other non-profits to benefit included Salem Animal Shelter and The United Way of the Roanoke Valley.
A popular event, Salem Fair is free to the public and also offers complimentary parking. Additionally, the Salem Free Fair has been recognized as one of the top 100 fairs and expositions in the country, and the fact that all entertainment and shows are available at no cost is an appealing reason fair-goers venture out every year.
Many attendees who visit the Salem Fair find it to be a great bargain experience offering plenty of things to see and do for the whole family.
“We are a free gate fair that does not charge a gate admission or for parking,” says Harveycutter, explaining why the Salem Fair is so unique. “Our goal is to leave the attendees satisfied that they received value for their hard-earned dollars, so they would return several times during the event.”
Despite the initial challenges for 2018, more than 300,000 people ended up coming out for the fair, which was promising.
Never a Dull Moment
Salem Fair doesn't disappoint with the entertainment it provides to visitors. Harveycutter says some of the new attractions for 2018 included the Extreme Raptors Show, where eagles, hawks, falcons and owls were used in demonstrations and were also available for photo opportunities with fair-goers; and the Xpogo Stunt Team, which captivated audience members with a variety of adrenaline-filled extreme pogo jumping tricks and demonstrations.
The civic center featured art, handicrafts and homemade goods such as cakes and cookies. All of the creations were entered into the fair's Blue Ribbon Exhibit, a contest where the winners were decided by around 80 judges.
Other family-friendly fair fun included Hedrick's Racing Pigs and Petting Zoo; the Danny Grant Variety Show, which featured juggling tricks, unicycling, hula hooping, balloon twisting, Circus Arts Workshops which welcomed audience participation; the Dairy Farm on Wheels and Small World of Agriculture, where children and adults had the opportunity to learn about farm life in an educational and interactive exhibit; the Kandu Magic Show; The Butterfly Encounter, an interactive, walk-through exhibit that also featured educational demonstrations; and the Wild and Wacky Game Show.
When it came to music, stage acts included Glen Shelton, 7 mile Ford, Rutledge, Mountain Highway, The Kings, Cimmaron and Vegas McGraw – a Tim McGraw Tribute.
To add to the fun, there were also fireworks on Fourth of July.
Out on the Midway
More than 40 midway rides were provided by Deggeller Attractions . Harveycutter says that some of the most popular carnival rides with fair attendees were the Hydra, Supernova, Enterprise and Giant Wheel. He adds that revenue from midway rides was also down by 6 percent this year due to the drop in attendance.
Wristbands for rides were available with varying prices and discounts daily, but the bands averaged $25 most days of the event.
Visitors were also drawn to the Salem Fair midway because of its food. The Salem Fair features 40 food vendors and some of the most sought-after snacks this year included John Staton's hand-churned ice cream, Henry Towner's Kettle Korn and Hog Wild Barbecue.
Getting the word out for the free fair is always an important factor in its success.
Salem Fair's annual advertising budget is $60,000 with 30 percent going toward digital, 30 percent to radio, 20 percent to TV and 10 percent to outdoor advertising.
For the 2019 season, so far, it looks like the fair will return to a 12-day run.