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Topsfield Fair: Traditional Favorites at the Heart of Event's Perennial Popularity
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More fairgoers than last year, a record-breaking day and more media coverage of this New England tradition than in recent memory, the 2023 Topsfield Fair was a successful edition of one of the largest outdoor events in the upper northeast. The early-fall fair, first held in 1818, is one of if not the oldest U.S. agricultural fairs in the country and like other Topsfield Fairs before this year, was replete with traditional Americana favorites such as Figure-8 racing, demolition derby, a hot dog-eating contest, livestock showcases, the 39th annual All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh Off and a 50+ride Fiesta Shows midway.

While this year boasted crowd-pleasing fair circuit stalwarts, such as Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, Clay Walker and the Flying Wallendas, it's been the emphasis on the core attractions of the large-scale-but-still-local fair experience that has enabled the event to remain popular more than two centuries after its first opening day.

As America's Oldest Fair, we feel that fairs are more relevant today than ever before,” declared David Thompson, Spokesman, Topsfield Fair. “As we as a society move away from farm life, fairs provide children and adults information on where their food and dairy products come from and why supporting local agriculture is important.”

Attendance Uptick

The 2023 fair attendance reached 393,598 a small but noticeable uptick from 382,775 in 2022, which Thompson attributes to better outreach to schools and student population post lockdown. “It was a slight increase,” he said. “We saw more schools bringing students back for field trips this year since the pandemic, which helps increase attendance.”

Weather was a mixed bag, with bad weather impeding some days but a sunny closing Sunday set a record for that day's attendance. “The 2023 Topsfield Fair began with rain and drizzle on Friday and Saturday, which made attendance for the first two days light,” he explained. “The weather improved and the number of visitors coming out on the first Sunday and throughout the week was strong. Because of the mixed forecasts and periods of rain on Saturday of closing weekend, the number of fairgoers on the grounds was way down. However, closing Sunday saw sunshine and cooler temperatures which brought out a record number of people to the fair with a single-day attendance record. The last day of the fair was beautiful weather, so the fair had a very strong last day.”

He added, “It was a very good year. Overall, the weather was good and attendance was up slightly from last year. We also had tremendous media interest with increased coverage on Boston television and radio stations. Chronicle, America's oldest newsmagazine show that runs on Boston's #1 station, returned to the Fair for the first time since 2011. They broadcast an entire show about the fair that ran a couple of weeks after the fair closed, but it will re-run again prior to the 2024 Topsfield Fair.”

Inflationary Impact

The downside of this fair was a dip of 8 percent in fair revenue, a result of price hikes throughout the fair and the now avoidable impact of inflation on the U.S. economy. “Spending appeared to be on par with 2022,” said Thompson. “Costs for everything were up which meant that the vendors, especially the food vendors, were charging more. Expenses were up. The cost of buses was up 50 percent from last year. The cost of the entertainment was also up.”

The buses are key to the fair. The vehicles transport fairgoers from remote parking lots to the admission gates. The fair uses more than 25 buses during the course of the fair.

Working with an advertising budget that was the same as 2022, and a similar media mix: TV- 25 percent; Digital/Social 25 percent, Radio 50 percent. This year's fair's marketing campaign focused on reminding consumers that fairs are joyful – A Whole Lot of Happy!, utilized in YouTube commercials were the narrator “guarantees a Whole Lot of Happy!” or on Instagram, with strategically timed engagements such as this June post: “We're under 100 days till this year's Topsfield Fair and tickets are now on-sale! We're celebrating A Whole Lot of Happy!”

Thompson said of the fair, that regardless of the new for 2023 tagline, “We didn't use [social media] differently. We have been using social media successfully in similar ways for several years.”

Fiesta Shows

The Topsfield Fair midway provider was Fiesta Shows, which had a midway of more than 50 rides, about the same number as 2022, according to Thompson. He said the top grossing rides were Spider Wheel,  Arctic Blast, and Merry Go Round.

In addition, “The entertainment that drew the biggest crowd was Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas with special Guest Foghat,” he said. “A trio of Doo-Wop groups – The Platters, The Drifters, and The Coasters – drew the second biggest crowd.”

Food stands numbered 78, and like the midway, no new introductions were noted but it was apparent the Topsfield Fair cuisine palette preferred the nostalgic flavors if yesteryear. “It is hard to know [the top selling dishes] but the Topsfield Fair Apple pie sold very well. Other popular items included fried dough, German fries, turkey legs, and caramel/candy apples. Because we had a warm streak we sold much more water than we normally sell.”

What hadn't changed was this annual harvest tradition that begins as the buildup to Halloween commences. A highlight as in in years past was the All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh Off, with a 2,198-pound pumpkin winning top honors as the region's largest gourd. An unusually rainy summer came to New England, potentially disrupting this year's pumpkin crop. Topsfield Fair General Manager Jim O'Brien was quoted in the local press about the tricky growing season. “We had a patch tour in August to see what growers had and how they were. At that point, some were collapsing, but we saw some really nice pumpkins. There could be a world record this year, I can't say.”

While this year's humungous pumpkin was a few pounds shy of 2022's 2,480 pounder, topping last year's attendance and renewing the agricultural mission of the event affirmed why this fair remains an cultural constant. “We always expect to put on a fair that will be popular with our guests, and we achieved this goal again this year,” said Thompson.
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