ST. PAUL — Can we now call the 2019 Minnesota State Fair the Greatest of All Time?
Yes — if you’re judging it by the numbers:
“Labor Day record attendance of 184,740 brought this year’s cumulative attendance total to 2,126,551, setting a new overall attendance record,” the Minnesota State Fair reported on Monday, Aug. 2. “The previous record of 2,046,533 was set last year.”
Doing the math, that’s a difference of 80,018 people.
Earlier in the day, Minnesotans on social media speculated as to why this year’s Fair had such a strong turnout:
“Perfect weather almost the entire duration this year,” said one commenter.
Another wondered if the Great Get-Together could be even greater:
“Can they expand?” someone asked. “It’s so busy.”
It was clear that 2019 was going to be a contender as the GOAT — it had six daily record attendance days:
- Sunday (Sept. 1) with 245,243 visitors
- Aug. 30 with 209,789
- Monday (Labor Day) with 184,740
- Aug. 23 with 157,224
- Aug. 27 with 136,987
- Aug. 22 (opening day) with 133,326.
The weather helped.
“That’s part of it,” says Jerry Hammer, CEO of the Fair. “For sure, that’s a part of it.”
So just how nice was it? It was relatively cool and dry between Aug. 22 and Sept. 2 at the weather station at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“The average temperature was 66.9 degrees,” said Chris O’Brien, a meteorologist out of the National Weather Service’s Chanhassen office, “which comes in as tied for 46th coldest for that time period.”
As for precipitation:
“1.21 inches,” O’Brien said. “which is the 66th wettest … and our records go back to 1871.”
The first Minnesota State Fair was held in 1859.
But it’s not as simple as good weather.
“Last year, we had at least some measurable rain on seven or eight days,” Hammer said, “and that was still the best year at that time.”
What’s with the big numbers, then?
“People really love the Fair,” said Hammer.
There’s more to love now.
“We’re offering more,” Hammer said.
More programs, more concerts, more beverages, more food …
“And we’re way past the everything-fried-on-a-stick, too,” said Hammer. “Much of the food could reasonably be served on a table covered in linen — except here, it’s served in a paper boat and shared with friends.”
This year, there were also new attractions, including the redeveloped North End, which includes an event center.
Hammer says he knew on the first day that this year might break records. Why?
“The energy,” he says. “Everyone was smiling.”
The opening ceremony, for example — usually quick and official, a way to mark the opening. This year, though, it was bigger.
“A guy was playing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ on the fiddle,” Hammer recalls. “I’ve never heard the national anthem played on a fiddle before and it was really moving. About halfway through, a woman started singing along; her voice was so beautiful. By the time she got to ‘And the rocket’s red glare,’ the whole place was crying. And that was it: The Fair was open. And everyone cheered. And I’ve never seen people cheer before.”
They cheer for cookies, of course. We asked Martha Rossini Olson (of Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar) about why she thinks attendance was a record this year:
“The weather was unbelievable,” Rossini Olson said in an email. “For the most part, every day was glorious — not too hot and not too cold — and I think that’s what brought so many people out. Also, the new attractions (like the new North End Event Center) seemed to draw in more fair-goers.”
But don’t expect the Fair to expand from 12 days based on these numbers (although they are always working on improving or adjusting pedestrian traffic flow).
Said Hammer: “This is a really big place — there’s room for a lot of people.”
“This place is so thick with memory,” Hammer said. “Everyone has Fair stories and memories; you have to swat the memories away sometimes, there are so many.”
For the next 359 days, that’s all we will have — our memories. The 2020 Minnesota State Fair starts on Aug. 27, 2020.