The State Fair of West Virginia returned to Fairlea, August 9 through August 18. The theme was “Unforgettable Fun” – a theme geared toward helping fair goers create unforgettable memories with their family members and friends.
“We are now pushing our 95th anniversary and are excited to celebrate this time-honored tradition,” says Kelly Collins, fair CEO. “When we survey fairgoers and ask why they attend the State Fair of West Virginia, most responses are 'it's a tradition,' or 'I came when I was a kid, now I want to bring my family.' We are honored to be such a big part of our fairgoers’ memories and summer plans.”
Attendance was up by eight percent this year due to new promotions as well as favorable weather conditions that helped push numbers up higher than normal. Collins says that 2018 was the second year the fair opened on a Thursday, and it also helped that the fair opened with a sold-out concert the same day, which increased attendance significantly.
The cost of admission was $9 for advance tickets and $11 when purchased at the gate. The fair also featured several special days. These included Magic Monday, where visitors had the opportunity to bring three canned goods and receive all-day rides and admission for $25, or just admission for $8; Senior Citizens Day, where people age 55 and over could enter the fair for $5 admission; Military Day with veterans receiving $6 admission; the Early Bird Special on Wednesday of the fair, where fair goers could get in for just $1 if they arrived before noon; and afternoon specials on Tuesday through Thursday, with $6 admission.
Some of the 2018 ground entertainment included the Swifty Swine Pig Racing, the Cowtown hands-on milking and butter making experience, Bears of Bearadise Ranch, Nerveless Knocks Thrill Show, the Christmas Tree decorating contest, the Golden Delicious Dessert Celebration, the Kardenni Magic Show, Sesame Street Live and the West Virginia High School and Youth Rodeo.
Headlining musical acts at the fair included Southern Uprising – A Southern Rock Revival featuring Travis Tritt, The Charlie Daniels Band and The Marshall Tucker Band; and there were also musical performances by groups such as MercyMe, Chris Young and Luke Combs, among others.
Midway Fun and Food
Midway entertainment was provided by family-owned and operated Reithoffer Shows. Revenue for rides was said to be up this year by nine percent, according to Collins, though exact numbers could not be given at this time. There were 26 rides on the midway for adults, including favorites such as the Gondola Wheel and Sizzler; and there were also 26 rides for children, including old-time favorites such as the Dizzy Dragon, Teacups and Carousel.
In addition to all the fun activities available, the food at the state fair is always a huge hit with the crowds. This year in particular was a win with visitors.
Collins says that the State Fair of West Virginia boasts an average of 60 food vendors on the grounds every season and a new idea was launched this year to hold the “Best of Fair Food” contest, a competition created as a fun way to promote the variety of food vendors to visitors. Fair attendees then had the opportunity to pick their favorites and decide on the winner of the culinary competition.
“We encouraged our vendors to come up with creative new fair food ideas, and in return we did some special advertisements,” says Collins. She adds that the bacon mac-n-cheese calzone was the big winner of the contest; however, there were other hits such as deep-fried cornbread with whipped cream, moonshine soaked chicken on a stick, specialty nachos, pepperoni rolls and homemade German chocolate ice cream.
A Focus on Education
Children's programming and education has been an important part of the fair for many years; it is an integral piece of the fair every season.
For 2018, when it came to children's activities on the grounds – aside from the 600 livestock exhibitors kids may have wanted to check out – Collins says that one of the favorite activities for kids to explore was the Farm to Food pavilion, designed for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The pavilion offered participants the opportunity to walk through learning all the steps to grow their own food from start to finish. There was also an agricultural scavenger hunt across the facility that was open to the public.
Additionally, this year marked the first year the Boy Scouts of America offered Scouts the opportunity to earn Merit Badges during the fair, and Collins says that more than 60 Scouts participated in the program.
Advertising Changing With the Times
The annual advertising budget of the State Fair of West Virginia has continued to change significantly over the past five years. The fair has now decided to take a more integrated approach with advertising, with a focus on social media and digital targeting, instead of utilizing traditional media outlets.
With changing times come new challenges. One of the biggest challenges the fair has faced in recent years has to do with education. Ironically, school start times are the culprit. The trend of earlier yearly start times is beginning to hurt fair attendance.
“Schools across the state are now starting either just before or during fair week,” says Collins. “It has caused a steady decline in attendance, especially on the weekdays.”
To combat this, Collins says that the fair board has come up with ideas to increase its educational outreach, in hopes of encouraging school-based activities such field trips to be arranged on the grounds during fair week.
Commitment to Youth
Education continues to be a priority to the fair.
The State Fair of West Virginia, in association with corporate, civic and individual contributors, offers five, four-year scholarships to youth who have participated in livestock shows, equine shows or the 4-H and FFA Youth Exhibit Program.