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Carnival & Fair News

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Horry County Fair Brings Americana Flavor to Tourist Town
Strates Shows midway attracts visitors before local destination venues open for the season
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The Horry County Fair succeeds by bringing to the community what theme parks and other spots cannot – the nostalgic, Americana feel of a county fair. What’s even more remarkable is that the Horry Corry fair is held in the highly competitive tourist destination of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where entertainment options abound.

Like most effective aspects of the live event business, timing is key for this fair. Unlike the other attractions in the region, the community aspects of the fair are ready-made for the overlooked year-round citizens of Horry County. And by falling in the early-to-mid spring, the fair takes place before many of the other destination spots are open for business. “It’s a very good event,” said Jimmy Strates of James E. Strates Shows. “We provide them a good value, and people come out and that has established this fair as an event.”

The timing of the event – April – also enhanced attendance, pulling in a family-oriented crowd enjoying Easter break. “It’s a tourist town, but having it at Easter Break, you get a crowd,” said Strates. “It was a steady attendance for about nine days of the 10 day fair. Easter break works great for a locals. It’s been my experience that the college spring break crowd tends not to want to go to the fair.” 

Overall Success

“The crowds are growing each year and the fair was an overall success in 2019,” said Steve Zacharias, General Manager, Myrtle Beach Speedway, who estimated the attendance to be in the 70,000 range. “The weather got us on the first Friday, but after that it was a good run. As I evaluated the fair, it is growing, and it is profitable. We had a lot more vendors, we make them money.” 

The current Horry County Fair is technically a revival of an area mainstay of several decades, until fading away nearly 20 years ago, sometime after the turn of the century. 

When the new fair was reinstated in 2017, the local buzz grew for a return to an old timey Americana fair filled with familiar traditions: rides, fair food, entertainment, and family fun. “People want that that small, county feeing,” he said. “The theme parks have their own appeal, but it’s not the local flavor, they go to a theme park for different reasons they come out to the fair.” 

The Horry County Fair is hosted by the Myrtle Beach Speedway, a classic American raceway built in 1958 and home to many exciting motor sports events, including the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series as well as the Late Model Charger, Super Trucks, Mini Stocks, the Myrtle Beach 400, IceBreaker 200, NASCAR Racing Experience, Monster Truck Beach Devastation,and NOPI Nationals.

 Strates points out that racing fans, NASCAR aficionados and other speedway crowds “have a huge synergy with the fairs. The speedway was opened during the fair, and we get a lot of the overflow. They came to the fair. We’ve played other speedways and you can be sitting in the middle of a festival and not bring any business because the people there are only focused on the race. This was a very family oriented crowd and they came to the fair.”

Other motorsports attractions featured at the fair included a NASCAR Whelen Fan Appreciation Race; Diesel Diagnostic Challenge; Custom Semi-truck Show and the Bandits Big Rig Series. 

More country fair entertainment included Robinson’s Racing Pigs, Petting Zoo, Father/Son Look-A-Like Contest & Mother/Daughter Look-A-Like Contests and Super Hero Saturday, which included both a Super Hero Contest (fairgoers dressed assuperhero competed for prizes) and a Super Hero Parade.

Country Sounds

The music lineup was heavy on country music, with live music on most nights and featured performances by Low Country, a local favorite and the acapella ensemble, Carolina Vocals. “Country music is the pat answer for what does well at the fair,” said Strates. “The music at the fair added to the fair flavor, it’s what people liked.” 

“We had a lot of local acts with their own followings,” said Zacharias. “They are very well received and bring in their own people as well.” 

The Strates Shows midway had a 35-ride footprint, about the same as previous years. “The space can’t accommodate more rides than that, it’s a standard midway. We changed the layout some, elongating the layout, which helped with the flow quite a bit and kept people moving. We moved it behind the grandstand; we fine-tuned the layout this year which worked well for the space.”

Two new Strates Rides—the Claw Ride and Circus Train – had their Horry County Fair debut. The newcomers were well received, but the top grossing rides, “are always the Giant Wheel and the Merry Go Round, which is the oldest rides we have.” Other rides include the Himalaya, Starship 2000 and Thunderbolt.”

The company offered unlimited ride wristbands every day. “The people respond to value, the admission is very affordable and we offered discounts which did well.” 

“It is great to be part of Strates Shows,” said Zacharias. “They are a great group to work with. John and Jimmy changed a few things up on the midway, which made for a different flow, but it was better. They are a big part as to why this fair is growing every year.”  
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