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New events, treats popular at Free Fair

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

New events and edible treats combined with mild temperatures and only a little rain to make the 2019 Fayette County Free Fair successful, according to Ted McQuinley, who is in his final year as Free Fair board president.

Vendors did well during this year’s fair from July 27-Aug. 3. Big crowds came to some of the amphitheater events and 4-H members showed projects and many animals, said McQuinley.

Each year there is at least one successful treat by a new food vendor. 

“This year, it was the chocolate chip cookies (Baptist Temple), and we had a new food vendor from New Castle (Ky’s Kreations) and those were the most popular newcomers,” McQuinley said. “I saw the Frisbee Cookies sign and wondered what they were. Everyone said it was great so I had to go get one and it literally was. As a fair board president, you love to see that happen and it’s doubly good because it’s local.”

The monster truck show proved to be a good new event, he said. The cost is very high so the fair board only had the sponsorship responsibility, the promoter took the risk, he said. The cost to bring the trucks to the amphitheater is more than $12,000 plus. The promoter basically broke even.

The demolition derby may have had the largest crowd ever, he added.

McQuinley said harness racing had to be cancelled Tuesday because the track had become too wet from the previous night’s heavy rain.

“We can make the track a little more absorbent and we plan to do that before the fall circuit racing Sept. 14,” he said.

The Indiana Standardbred Association has awarded the fair a $1,000 grant to pay for lime to help absorb rain. It will be put on the track soon.

The Free Fair Association board will now review the fair and make changes if needed.

One of the issues to be discussed will be the cost for space rented to vendors.

The Fair Association controls activities at the 14 Acres and in Roberts Park from the Pavilion and to the east. The shelters near Park Road and the Longwood Bridge remain under the control of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, he said.

“There is one vendor told me when I collected that he would not come back if the price was the same,” Fair Board President Ted McQuinley said. “He told me he is not here as a profit-making space but has always been about meeting and socializing.”

That vendor is Mike Sparks.

Sparks said because the board changed to charging $20 per foot facing the road rather than a flat fee, his cost went from $100 to $400. 

Fayette County Democratic Party Chair Tim Rose said the cost for their display went up about $305; their cost had been about $600, including the tent. This year the party received a bill for $600 for the space, and paid $250 for the tent and $55 for electricity.

Vivian Himelick, Republican County chair, said she had asked for space like in 2018 and did not review the contract. The party found a big tent on its lot, which had to be replaced. She got charged for the larger tent which was about $200 higher than the previous year.

McQuinley said fair attendance probably matched previous years, but people seemed to spend more money.

“They (food vendors) all did real well,” he said. “The amusement side, I believe, was a record year for the fair here. When you consider that armband (price) didn’t go up, that means people evidently had more money this year than last year.”

Campers at the 14 Acres seemed to be packed in like sardines. Eight-six campers arrived at the fair with 12 on the waiting list, McQuinley said.

“We’re out of electricity but we have plenty of water available if they want to run hoses,” he said. “We could justify, as a fair board talking from the business side, (install more electrical power), if people camped here other times than fair week.”

Because Col. James Roberts stipulated the land for Roberts Park host a free fair every year, McQuinley said there can be no gate fee like a lot of fairs to help offset some of the costs. Also, many fairgrounds are publicly owned but the Fair Association owns the 14 Acres and they have monthly bills.

He estimated the cost of $3,000 a month for just utilities and insurance to operate the 14 Acres.

Because of the uncertainty of staff in the Fayette County Extension office, a lot more got placed on volunteers and the fair board, he said. Because of the increasing cost printing and assembling the fair books, they might be eliminated in the future.

During the week, without counting horses, he counted 908 4-H animals at the fair.

Visitors to the fair turned in about 300 pounds of canned goods on two-can Tuesday to get $3 off an amusement ride armband, he said. That compares to 77 pounds in 2018. The food goes to the Community Sharing Foundation.

Jessup’s Amusements has signed a new three-year contract to remain at the fair.