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California Mid-Winter Fair: A Sure Cure for the Wintertime Blues
Strong advance sale boosts Helm & Sons midway
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With an ample carnival from Helm and Sons Amusements and a wide variety of fair-going fun, the 111th annual California Mid-Winter Fair is a traditional harbinger of spring. Running March 1st through 10th in Imperial, Calif., the theme this year was “Get Your Kicks on Route 86.”

Ticket pricing  was $10 for adults, with children and seniors $8; pre-sale tickets lowered costs by $2 per ticket. The carnival wristband was $25 in advance and $35 at the door. A Family Value Pack, priced at $70 provided two carnival wristband coupons plus two adult and two child admissions. Also available for pre-sale were Monster Truck tickets, a big attraction at the fair. Tickets for the event,  which did not include fair admission, were $8 for adults and $4 for children ages 6 to 12. According to fair CEO Alan Phillips, nearly half of all admission tickets are sold during presale.

The California Mid-Winter fair is the largest and longest-running community event in the area, and focuses on agriculture, hand-crafted items, and local talent. Showcased were photography displays, geode cutting and gem faceting, fossil cleaning, among other areas that support interests in the region. 

The fair opened on a Friday afternoon with a traditional discount for seniors and veterans of the military, with free admission and several special events held at the Plaza de la Culturas building on the fairgrounds.

Phillips says history and memory-making were among the themes of this year’s fair, reflecting the theme of  “Get Your Kicks on Route 86.” 

Phillips says that this year “the goal is to bring back a lot of Imperial Valley’s history and memories that are reminiscent of the old Highway 86. We hope to conjure up great memories from the past and highlight the history of the Valley.” He adds that “With the transfer of ownership of Imperial’s portion of Highway 86 from the state of California to the city of Imperial recently taking place, we knew that we had to recognize and call attention to the history of the highway that courses through our town.”

The fair has several unique aspects. Phillips notes that among them, “For being a ‘small’ area, our carnival pre-sales are consistently the biggest that the carnival company, Helm and Son Amusements, has at all their locations.” 

At the carnival, over 40 rides were offered, including the Giant Wheel and Century Wheels, and a strong collection of kiddie rides including Turtles, Buggies, and the mini Gold Mine Lil’ Coaster.

The most popular ride of all, Phillips says, was “The Flying Elephant ride, which was a brand new, beautiful ride.” 

A change at the fair this year was placing these children’s carnival rides near the front entrance to both prevent congestion elsewhere and engage family attendees more quickly in the attractions that the fair had to offer. 

As Phillips explains “This year, for the first time, we split the kiddie rides to a different location on the fairgrounds. This has been a very positive move on our part, as it alleviated the congestion of all the rides being placed together, and the concessionaires and vendors in the area also had increased sales compared to previous years - because of the split.
Along with the carnival’s excitement, the fair’s livestock program and auction ranked high in interest for fairgoers. Phillips says both continue to grow annually. “Our community is very supportive of the livestock exhibitors during the auction. (We had) over $2 million (in sales) this year.”

Overall, however, admissions were down about 3.6%. Weather was the reason, Phillips relates. “Out of our 10-day run, we had a number of windy days, and one evening was met with some rain.” Seasonally speaking, Imperial also experienced lower than average temperatures.

He terms the fair’s most popular event overall to be an annual one, High School Madness. “It is like a big pep rally for all the comprehensive high schools in the county,” he explains. The event consistently sells out a 2,500-maximum capacity space within minutes of the opening of ticket sales, he reports. “The respective schools’ cheerleading squads and drumlines perform, along with fun competitions pitting schools against one another.”

Of course, food was also offered in abundance at the Mid-Winter Fair, and two traditional favorites seem to always come out on top, and did again this year, Phillips says. 

“Year after year, our top concessions are Golden West Concessions’ Spiral Fries and Funnel Cakes West’s Funnel Cake Stand,” Phillips states. “My opinion on what makes these funnel cakes special is they use individual cast iron pans to cook the cakes versus a typical deep fryer.”

Despite these items continuing their strong popularity, concessions were down 1.6% from 2018; and like the reduction in gate admissions, weather was likely to blame. 

Along with the food, carnival, and livestock, other events entertained fair guests this year, including a number held at the Plaza de la Culturas on the fairgrounds. 

For the opening day, which was also Senior Appreciation Day, events included a Calexico-based senior citizens Tai Chi, and a performance by the Hidalgo Zumba class from Brawley. Entertainment coordinator Linda Esparza also offered a wide range of musical performances at the Plaza stage, including mariachi, banda, and meringue. The main stage entertainment for opening day was an evening performance by a Frankie Valli tribute band. Also popular: the bands Queen Nation, and Pure Majik. All of these mainstage events were held at the Rabobank Center Stage Area, and were included with the price of fair admission.

On Tuesday, March 5th, the Plaza patio hosted a Craft Beer Fest, which proved to be another popular event.

Other entertainment included daily free performances throughout the fair by Godfrey the Magician, and a daily silent disco. A Demolition Derby added excitement on Wednesday, while The Monster Truck Tour appeared on Friday, March 1st. 
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