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Carnival & Fair News

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After Canceling in 2020, Okeechobee County Fair comes roaring back in 2021
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The 2021 Okeechobee County Fair Board aimed to bring “Buckets of Fun in 2021” to their community. Linda Syfrett, President and founder of the fair, feels that their mission was accomplished. “It was a sad time cancelling our fair last year, we had to make the decision just one day before we were supposed to open,” says Syfrett. After creating a solid Covid-19 mitigation strategy, Syfrett, and the rest of her all-volunteer board members, were ready to provide an opportunity for family fun after a year of uncertainty.

When it came time to begin planning, Syfrett and her board felt they had a good Covid mitigation strategy ready for approval which they submitted to the administrator of the fairgrounds and to the city of Okeechobee. “We provided extra hand washing and hand sanitizing stations, arranged for wiping down rides throughout the day and deep cleaning at night. Ultimately, we felt this is an outdoor event, and certainly, with all that prep, we felt like we could put on a very safe fair,” says Syfrett.

For the 2021 event, the Okeechobee County Fair had a new midway provider: Modern Midways, and a new online ticketing system: Innovative Ticketing.  “Around November we said ‘we got this' and three board members went to Brunswick GA to see the Modern Midways show that was up and running at that time,” says Syfrett. The group was very impressed  by what they saw and got to meet with Robert Briggs, owner of the show. “At that time, we were convinced that Modern Midways would be an excellent team member for the Okeechobee Fair, that's what sealed the deal,” says Syfrett.

According to Vice President Angie Griffin, and Syfrett herself, the online ticketing system was a “big win.” “Robert Briggs and Innovative Ticketing both worked with us to implement the system. They were so helpful and it was easy to use. Robert Briggs was confident and comfortable in the system which also made us comfortable,” says Syfrett. Another big attraction to Innovative Ticketing over other companies was the low overhead cost and personalized customer service. The Okeechobee County Fair didn't have to invest in equipment and just used phones and tablets to scan the tickets using a free app.

Robert Briggs, owner of Modern Midways, echoed Syfrett's sentiment that the 2021 Okeechobee County Fair was a great success. In his first year at the fair, Briggs wasn't sure what to expect but found a great partnership in Syfrett and the rest of the board: a relationship that can sometimes be a difficult balance in the carnival and fair industry. “We had a great first year at the Okeechobee County Fair; it's a very nice fair and the board is so enthusiastic. Linda kept the same energy from opening day to closing day. It's clear that the board truly loves the fair and that's what makes it successful,” says Briggs.

Briggs said that Modern Midways had a record run on the midway, which included about 35 rides. In terms of Covid mitigation strategies, Modern Midways staff followed all Florida rules. “Our employees wore masks throughout the events, we created social distancing marks for our lines, and provided extra hand sanitizing stations. Things went off without a hitch,” says Briggs. Fortunately, the Modern Midways team has been playing fairs since June so employing a strategy to mitigate risk during large events is not something new to their employees. Other fair boards throughout the state of Florida visited the Okeechobee County Fair and Briggs hopes this will help continue the momentum to reopen fairs across the country.

“It's nice to make money, but when you work with people who care about what they're doing it's a huge bonus,” says Briggs. “My opinion about fairs and carnivals in 2020 and 2021 is that it's easy to figure out mitigation strategies, but the most important thing is for an event sponsor to have faith in you and the courage to run. If they have the courage to run, we'll bring the fun,” he says.

Community response to the fair was overwhelmingly positive; “every day somebody was saying ‘best fair ever' to us. They know the amount of work it takes to put on the fair. We're all volunteer and we work very hard,” says Syfrett. After a cancellation in 2020, it was refreshing to have something positive to offer the community, reflects Syffrett. “All the efforts paid off. We truly had buckets of fun in 2021 and reached record attendance this year with the help of great weather,” she says.

All of aspects of the fair were able to go on during the 2021 event. “We had a full fair including a demo derby, a motorcycle FMX/BMX show, the ‘Horses, Horses, Horses,' show and a petting zoo for entertainment,” says Syfrett. The fair board ensured competitive events like arts and crafts were still able to be displayed by creating a one-way path through the tent. The tents were opened up and fans were going to circulate fresh air. “We did everything possible to provide a safe environment,” says Syfrett.

In order to advertise the 2021 fair, Syfrett relied on signage throughout the small town. “Not many people read the newspaper anymore and not too many people listen to the radio,” says Syfrett. The Okeechobee County Fair team put up 8 - 4x8 plywood signs throughout town displaying the dates and logo. Syfrett says that Modern Midways sent quite a few smaller yard signs, which offered a $5 discount when customers purchased unlimited ride wristbands through Innovative Ticketing online. Briggs also sent posters to put in windows of stores in town. The signage was accompanied by morning drive radio announcements starting 2-3 weeks ahead. The fair also relied on social media promotion to get the word out. 

“I think we've proved that there's a safe way to put on fairs and carnivals; we need to  encourage fair managers to open and reiterate that it's a safe, outdoor, event,” says Syfrett. With the help of the hard-working fair board and the Modern Midways team, Syfrett feels the fair has been able to reach the next level of success even during a pandemic. “We've gone beyond anything I thought we could've accomplished,” she says.

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