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2021 South Florida Mini Fair: Nothing Short of Extraordinary
Scaled back event exceeds Wade Shows maximum expectations

Wade Shows Opened the Season with a Scaled Back South Florida Fair
The fair featured a limited midway and reduced entertainment, but exceeded Wade Shows CEO Frank Zaitshik's maximum expectations. Photo by Nothing Negative Company, courtesy of the South Florida Fair social media.

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The South Florida Fair opted to hold a mini fair in place of a full-sized annual event during the original fair dates: January 15th-31st.  While this was a new take on the fair for everyone involved, the change was a welcomed success after a year of uncertainty.  “I know that extraordinary is a big word, but we had big results,” says Frank Zaitshik, President of Wade Shows.  Held outdoors, with an extensive mitigation strategy in place, the South Florida Mini Fair is further proof that fairs, festivals, and carnivals can be held safely.

Vicki Chouris, President and CEO, South Florida Fair, is thrilled with the outcome of the South Florida Mini Fair.  Like many in the outdoor amusement business industry, Chouris would've never guessed that the COVID-19 pandemic would affect the 2021 fair.  “I never thought there would be a question about having the fair in January.  I figured this would be over by then.  We always had Plan A: full fair and Plan B: a scaled back fair excluding the big things that caused crowds to form e.g. parades, musical acts, spectacular rides,” says Chouris.  Around the holidays, Chouris, her board, and her staff made the conscientious decision to focus on families and the mini fair and Plan C was born.  “We decided to have only children's and family rides and to move everything from our indoor buildings outside,” she says. 

All of the South Florida Fair vendors were invited to participate but were limited to just one stand in order to provide equal opportunity for all.  According to Chouris, there was a great response.  “The public was truly grateful and we could not have asked for more perfect weather.”

As Spring approaches, and vaccines are more widely distributed, Chouris and her staff are feeling confident in presenting a more full fair, similar to their Plan B.  “May 7th-23rd, we're planning to have a full carnival midway, indoor vendors and entertainment, and the return of our Expo theme.  It's so important for all of us in this industry to get back to work and we're happy to have that opportunity,” says Chouris. 

Zaitshik and his staff followed CDC guidelines and best practices in order to provide employees and fairgoers the opportunity to enjoy the midway safely and minimize risk of COVID-19.  The midway held 16 rides: 11 children's rides , 4 standard, family rides, and an Italian 22 meter wheel.  “Our rides were picked carefully.  We chose our standard rides to accommodate kids with their parents, kids who are too big for children's rides, specifically,” says Zaitshik.  The Vertigo, Cliffhanger, Sizzler, Zero Gravity, and Italian 22 meter wheel represented the family rides.  In addition to rides, there were 4 food stands and 7 games on the midway.

Wade Shows used their digital ticketing system, FunTagg, at the mini fair.  “We used this system for a couple reasons.  First, we believe in it and want to use it wherever we can.  But now, there's even more impetus to use the FunTagg system because it has so many contactless opportunities,” says Zaitshik.  Perhaps the most useful, contactless feature of the FunTagg system is the mobile app which allows the customer to make all of their purchases, including wristbands, on their phone and never go to a ticket kiosk or have contact with employees. 

Customers were also able to use kiosks which were conveniently located on the midway for cash or credit transactions and, once again, not come in contact with an employee.  “Our system uses NFC technology so it's pretty much ‘tap and go' when completing transactions.  It's very efficient and the safest way we know to sell credits and wristbands,” says Zaitshik. 

At the South Florida Mini Fair, Wade Shows did not use any human ticket sellers except in their guest relations centers.   “Ambassadors” from the Wade Shows staff were placed at the kiosks which were divided into two ticketing plazas in case customers needed help when purchasing tickets.  They also served as a source of general information for patrons. 

Another important part of the COVID-19 mitigation strategy on the midway was the availability of personal, protective equipment (PPE).  In an effort to protect both employees and customers, the Wade Shows staff placed Lexan barriers in areas where fairgoers and employees interacted.  “We had Lexan barriers around our customer service centers, in between each of our kiosks in the ticketing plazas, and where our staff members stand at the entrance of our rides,” says Zaitshik.  Ride capacity was also reduced so that mixing of non-family groups on the rides was minimized. 

Albeit challenging, Zaitshik got creative when it came to the layout of the midway.  “We had to be sure to create space enough so that our customers had the opportunity to engage in social distancing,” he says.  Each of the two ticketing plazas on the midway took up about 80-100 feet of frontage and depth in order to allow for adequately spaced lines.  The Wade Shows team also utilized 500 pieces of bicycle fencing for enormous queue lines.  For example, the Vertigo ride required an 80 foot circular fence line; it wrapped around the ride and emptied out at the entrance of the ride.  “We're not in the business of enforcing certain CDC guidelines, but, it is our responsibility to provide the tools to follow these guidelines for those who want it.  We certainly do our best to accomplish that in all aspects of what we do,” says Zaitshik.

Holding large events during the COVID-19 pandemic is a constantly evolving situation.  While Zaitshik is quick to say he and his staff members are certainly not perfect, he's proud of the effort he and his employees put forward each day.  “We're always adapting based on the information we get, as we get it.  I can acknowledge that we try to live up to our ‘always first always best' motto when putting together our mitigation plan.  Anybody can put together a covid[MC1]  mitigation plan that looks good on paper, but just like anything else regarding safety in this business, it's important to take ownership of it yourself and to execute it to the best of your ability,” he says.  All Wade Shows employees were “masked up” and participating in daily health screening throughout the duration of the mini fair.

As the mini fair approached, Zaitshik developed a minimum expectation and a maximum expectation of what they could do at the mini version of the South Florida Fair.  “I'm happy to say that the mini fair exceeded my maximum expectation.  The results of our hard work were nothing short of extraordinary.” The people who came to the South Florida Mini Fair were very excited to have something fun to experience with their children.  According to Zaitshik, the overwhelming majority of patrons were families with kids, well suited for the rides Wade Shows provided.  He feels the advertising was extremely successful as there was very little confusion about what to expect at the mini fair.  The people that came knew what they were coming for; If there was any surprise at all, customers were pleasantly surprised by the size of the event.

Zaitshik gives credit for the success of the South Florida Mini Fair to President/CEO, Vicki Chouris, her staff, and the South Florida Fair Board.  “The fair worked with us so well and made it clear that this is a separate event from the annual fair.  It was mutually beneficial, especially given the current circumstances,” he says. 

As he looks ahead at the 2021 season, Zaitshik reemphasizes that it's a shared responsibility between customers, the carnival and the fair to hold safe events.  “Patrons have to make the choice to come out and take equal responsibility in taking care of themselves and their fellow man.  We have to respect the health of these around us,” he says.  “I'm happy to help anybody in the industry get to where they need to be regarding operating amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  I don't have all the answers, but I have played 4 events in 2020 and 2021 and gained a wealth of knowledge in this area,” says Zaitshik.  “I'm proud of everyone: my employees, staff, and in particular, have pride in my family for their role in the success of the South Florida Mini Fair.”

WATCH:  IAFE's Marla Calico conducts an interview with South Florida'a WPTV-5 News Crew about the South Florida Mini-Fair's success

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