'Better-than-average fair'

To continue the "red, white and blue" tradition of the county fair into our new century, it requires some "black ink". The East Otter Tail County Fair did just that, avoiding the red ink and recording a profit, based on early revenue estimates fo...

To continue the "red, white and blue" tradition of the county fair into our new century, it requires some "black ink".

The East Otter Tail County Fair did just that, avoiding the red ink and recording a profit, based on early revenue estimates following the July 20-23 run.

"I consider this a better-than-average year," said fair board chairman Al Priebe. "I really wouldn't have believed it myself until I started to look at the numbers...we made money this year."

For the fair board and promoters like Priebe, who has been involved with the EOT fair since 1984, a profitable fair means the tradition will survive another year, and revenue to build on for the next year. With county fairs struggling almost everywhere, the East Otter Tail County Fair appears to be sustaining itself.

Nearby county fairs struggling


One doesn't need to look any further than our neighboring counties to realize the challenges. This may be the final year for the Wadena County Fair (set July 27-30). hampered by deteriorating facilities, lack of volunteer commitment and in sufficient funds. To the west, Becker county is surrounded by development--with nowhere to grow.

"As far as the walk-in gate, we took in about $30,000...and we did about $20,000 at the beer gardens," said Priebe, who stressed that the numbers are educated estimates at this stage. "We always say, as a rule, if we do 20 and 20--we've broke even."

Carnival raised some complaints

There were concerns and a few gripes expressed by fair-goers, but that's common, said Priebe.

Most of the issues revolved around the midway--which is also typical.

Set-up of the carnival rides was behind schedule on Thursday. The ferris wheel never went into operation during the four days of the fair because of mechanical issues. Some complained that there weren't enough rides overall. Also mentioned was the single ticket booth on the midway, which was bottle-necked with long lines.

"The carnival will be better next year. We discussed it at length with the company and we're on the same page," said Priebe. This is the third year the EOT fair board has contracted with Armstrong shows, and overall, its been a good working relationship. "He's going to need more manpower with a working crew to set up the equipment, rather than just the ride operators."

The ferris wheel was operational by Saturday morning, said Priebe, but it was decided not to start it up at that late date.


Ideally, the goal is to get gross revenue from the carnival to the $100,000 mark--which will mean more rides and features. The county fair in Fertile, for example, pre-sells almost $50,000 in armbands--compared to $11,000 in Perham.

Missing from the fair was the age 16 to young adult age group--an age bracket that was once the best customers on the carnival midway.

"We're just not seeing those kids coming to the fair...A carnival is just not attractive to them any more," said Priebe. "The under 15 group is still interested, they're still curious--but 16 and 17 year olds, they've seen it all."

Attendance good, despite competition with other events

Following are a variety of comments and observations following the 2006 East Otter Tail County Fair.

----Total attendance over the four days was estimated at 35,000, said Priebe. Attendance was impressive, he said, especially with the competition from the 10,000 Lakes Music Festival in Detroit Lakes and the West Otter Tail County Fair in Fergus Falls happening over the weekend. Depending on the calendar, the Fergus Falls and Perham fairs occur over the same weekend about once every four years.

----The two demolition derbies are the fair's "bread and butter"said Priebe, drawing large crowds and producing good concession and beverage sales.

----The Saturday truck-tractor pull event was more successful than anticipated. "We had a much better pull than last year...We had to turn people away at the door because we had so many entries," said Priebe.


----4-H animal exhibits were down somewhat, and the number of exhibitors in the commercial building was also down. But the horse barn was full--with animals and people. "The horse shows are becoming very successful," said Priebe. "There were more people in the horse barn than I've ever seen...There was a steady stream into the horse barn, and the bleachers were full for the show."

----One of the EOT fair's keys to success is the support from sponsors, said Priebe, who said they "can't be thanked enough." Numerous businesses and organizations donate at the "sponsor" level, which is $200 or more.

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