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County fair attendance down from 2014 (w/video)

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Andrew Schneeberger or Alexandria (center) rode the merry-go-round Friday afternoon at the Douglas County fair with his son, Devon, (right) and his nephew, Aiden Bayless. (Lowell Anderson/Echo Press)2 / 4
Kyle Bloomquist of Raymond holds on during his saddle bronc ride at the Douglas County Fair on Saturday afternoon. Bloomquist had a bit of a scare after his horse bucked him off and he was struck by a back hoof around his neck area when he was on the ground. Bloomquist eventually got to his feet and walked off under his own power after being looked at by medical personnel. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)3 / 4
Participants in the Motokazi supercross race thrilled fans with their high-flying antics at the fair Friday evening. (Lowell Anderson/Echo Press) 4 / 4

The 2014 Douglas County Fair started out strong, with record attendance on Thursday’s opening day.

But attendance fell considerably for the rest of the four-day run, leaving organizers to analyze all the possible reasons.

“Things bounced around this year,” said Dale Buchholz, secretary of the Douglas County Agricultural Association that organizes the fair. “Thursday was up considerably in terms of attendance. It was just a great day. Friday was probably average, and Saturday was down.

“Sunday was way down. We’re not sure if it was the blast of rain that morning or if it was the cold.”

Buchholz estimates about 45,000 people attended this year, which is down about 3,000 from last year and several thousand from the fair’s all-time high, which was more than 50,000.

Two new grandstand events were held this year, including the Motokazi supercross race and Minnesota High School Rodeo, which featured three rodeos. These events replaced the stock car races and tractor pull events, which were held for many years.

“Attendance at the motocross was very good,’ Buchholz noted. “It could have been higher, but it still pulled in good crowds.

“The rodeo is new to this area, so I think for our first attempt it was pretty good. The people who went really enjoyed it. It may be one of those things that we need to do for several years in order to develop a following, I don’t know.”

Some of the vendors shared with Echo Press reporters that their sales were considerably down this year, with one food vendor saying it was the “worst fair” for their business in the last 20 years.

However, another vendor located in the Runestone Community Center said her sales were actually up this year, although she agreed that attendance seemed down.

One of the frustrations vendors shared was about having to pay to get into the fair this year.

According to Buchholz, in the past, vendors have received one or more free tickets based on the size and cost of their space.

This year, rather than increase the space costs, the fair board decided to not give out any passes with vendor rentals.

“We tried to do what the bigger fairs do, where everyone buys a ticket to get in,” Buchholz said. “We felt that not increasing the vendor rates, along with ProAg’s sponsorship [which gave attendees the ability to redeem their tickets for $5 off items at the Country Store], was a good choice.”

But he admitted it was a choice many of the vendors weren’t pleased with.

“We’ll relook at all these things when planning for next year, but for some, there is not a change you can make that doesn’t infuriate them,” Buchholz said.

“This is a county fair that’s not county supported,” he explained. “That’s what the people need to understand. We have to keep the doors open by charging to get into the fair.”

He explained that building maintenance is one of the major expenses incurred by the fair board each year.

“This year we had to make a decision – are we going to allow the grandstand to collapse and die and close it, or pump a bunch of money into it,” he said.

A professional engineering firm was brought in to evaluate the historic grandstand, which has been in use since 1939, and it was decided to invest in fixing it up.

“We put close to $50,000 into it, which is much more than we net in a single year,” Buchholz said.

“Ticket prices is a yearly topic for us,” said the fair board member. “We don’t want prices to be at a point where people who are struggling can’t come to the fair. We’ve looked at some free fairs and some of them are struggling.

“It’s ticket sales and the support of the community that keep the fair running,” he added. “Our vendors and the county businesses who -offer their support – there were some major contributors this year – that’s what it takes.”

“On the positive side, we had a safe fair, and there was stuff for absolutely everyone, from age 1 to 100,” Buchholz concluded.

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More information about this year’s fair, including 4-H results and more photos, will be printed in a special Douglas County Fair Souvenir section in this Friday’s Echo Press.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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