Founded in 1874, the Nevada State Fair ran for 136 years until 2010, when bankruptcy and organizational malfeasance led its demise. But in 2016, Nevadans finally had their state fair back, albeit at slightly smaller scale and a new location - Carson City, the state capital.
The resurrection of this Silver State tradition began in 2013, when a new nonprofit Nevada State fair agency was formed. The state gave this agency grants and other support; Carson City casinos and other local business sponsored the fair and a range of politicians and other state dignitaries attended the ribbon cutting ceremony opening the four-day fair, which attracted about 8,000 per day.
The fair had free admission and free parking, and although the 2016 return might be smaller in scale, the fact seems to be that it was a success and that augurs well for the future.
"The demand for the fair was palatable," said Bob Robinson, Executive Director, Nevada State Fair. "We had a phenomenal first fair, and the feeling was overwhelming that people really wanted their state fair back, they needed it."
Exact estimations of attendance and spending are difficult for the comeback fair because admission was free. "That is part of our mission, to keep it free to the public," said Robinson.
Next year, the fair plans to expand its agricultural exhibitions and begin adding other fair activities. But this year the fair had rides, food, entertainment and representations of state pride. None of the organizers are denying that things can be improved, "but we are defiantly on the right track and we are definitely going to have this for years to come," Robinson declared.
When Harry Mason, CEO, Brass Ring Amusements, first heard about the revived fair, he admitted he was apprehensive. More than a decade ago - the early 00's - he was the midway provider, "but it was a very poorly run organization, " he said, adding that he declined to renew the contract well before the 2010 demise of the original fair. He was also concerned about the location move - the old fair was held in Reno, a much larger market.
But he was convinced that the new fair organization was reputable and committed to quality outdoor events when he met with Robinson. "Bob knew about events, and the organization wanted to put on a good community event, a good fair."
And the apprehension about Carson City also quickly faded away. "I wasn't sure about the fairgrounds, I had heard they had only done a couple of carnivals before, but they were very professional."
In addition, while Reno might be bigger, the flash and glamour of that famed gaming destination in the long run might be less conducive to fairs than Carson City. "Carson City is more residential," he said. "It may be half the size of Reno, but it has more families and that is the demographic you want. It's very appropriate to have the state fair in the state capitol. The fairground is two blocks from the state capitol, so you can see the state capitol building in the background. "
The midway featured about 20 rides, according Mason, with the top attractions being the Century Wheel, Carousel, Drop Tower, "which is always really popular," he added, and Vertigo. In addition, the Brass Ring Amusements, midway had 16 games and four food stands
"It was a good size show," he said. "It was a good crowd, they were not afraid to spend money."
An improving Nevada economy seems also to have had a positive impact on the fair, and likely fueled the revival of a state fair in Nevada. Robinson said the Nevada economy may not be at the pre-recession levels, "it has bounced back, the real estate market is very strong and unemployment is lower. It's not where it was before the bust, but there is a recovery and I think that was a factor in bringing back the fair, a huge factor."
He pointed out that four or five years ago, immediately after the original Nevada State Fair folded its tent, "people weren't spending. But now there are more families, and they can afford to do something, they have more disposable income, but they are still watching their budget so as long as it is not expensive. The fair is perfect, and they families want good, wholesome entertainment that is affordable."
"Northern Nevada is going through a renaissance of food, outdoors, the arts, and industry," said Kyle, Hoverath, Social Media Manager at Visit Carson City, who worked closely with the revival of the Nevada State Fair. " We are hot right now. It showed at the fair with the participation by industry. You can tell we are on an upswing because families came out multiple days and bought ride tickets and funnel cakes. It really is an affordable night out for a family and the community came out to enjoy it"
Brass Ring Amusements plays a western states circuit, and an upbeat comic climate seems the rule in 2016. "People are spending more, the economy does seem better," he said. "We are on track to be 8 percent above last year, which was a record year for us."
According to Robinson, the fair's marketing budget was bare bones - about $35,000. The Carson City Visitors Bureau was instrumental in providing marketing and printing services, as well as extensive social media marketing, especially Facebook and Twitter. "We reached out to the Hispanic community and did a lot of radio collaboration," said Robinson. Mason said his company did "$12,000" in ride promotion.
The fair's musical entertainment were all Nevada-based artists, covering a range of genres, including Bluegrass, Jazz, Folk, Dance, Big Band, and Rock. With so many casinos and music venues in the state - coupled with the budget restrictions of this revived fair determined to avoid the financial pitfalls that doomed the previous incarnation of the Nevada State Fair - the fair declined to use nationally known headliners. But local acts brought small but loyal followers to the fair, "we reached out to the different counties, so most of Nevada was represented on the stage too," he said.
The new Nevada State Fair celebrated everything Nevada with The Rendezvous, a reenactment theatrical troupe who recreated mining camps and other historic western scenarios. "People here love their history, and they recreated trading with Native Americans and other scenes, they have a following," he said. The only paid event was had historical overtimes "the Wild West Wine Run on the V&T Railway." The V&T is an authentic steam locomotive from the 19th century, a popular attraction in Carson City. For the fair, the train went on a limited run to Virginia City and back.
The fair's logo featured a vintage Ferris Wheel, a nod to both Nevada and Fair history: George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. invented the original Ferris Wheel, said to have premiered at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, while he was a resident of Carson City. His residence, the Sears-Ferris House in Carson City, is on the National Register of Historic Places. "It's our piece of fair history so that's why we had the wheel in our logo," said Robinson. "Carson City was thrilled to have the new state fair here because they are proud of this history."
Food Network Films
About 30 food vendors were showcased at the Nevada State Fair, and according to Robinson, sales were brisk. "The food vendors were happy with the turnout, I got very positive feedback," he said. "The demand for Indian Tacos was huge, that was the one question I seemed to get the most frequently. Funnel cakes were very popular, they even ran out of ice cream."
One unusual and popular food item was the "Fried Pickle with Bacon on a stick, dipped in Chocolate," said Hoverath.
While the food vendors may be limited compared to other state fairs, the Nevada event received some national exposure. The Food Network attended the fair and filmed segments. "They contacted us for a list of our food vendors, and apparently they are planning to do a couple of episodes from for their series on State Fair food," said Robinson.
The fair featured an additional 55 vendors and booths, with everything ranging from an animal trailer from the Nevada State Department of Wildlife to a Hot Tub and other vendors. "All the vendors gave me positive feedback and most said they would come back next year."
The fair also made sure the revived edition was as state-wide as possible. Robison said that 16 out of 17 counties were represented. "We reached out and they each had a booth and representation."
First times only happens once - well, technically in the case of the Nevada State Fair, twice, the first, first time was in 1874. What is clear in Nevada is that enthusiasm for the 2017 State Fair is abundant. "It is exciting to have the opportunity for what all intents and purposes is a new event," said Mason. "This fair has a lot of potential and a lot of support."
He added, "We will be communicating throughout the year, but we will probably have a discussion sometime in October. We talked about a lot of ideas, such as using a second location for a Kiddie Land and having shuttle buses taking customers back and forth. We would like to get more rides. There are a lot of things we can do."