Kiss and Fried Foods Keep Minnesota State Fair Close to Last Year’s Record

27 Sep

This family gets festive before a concert by Kiss at the Minnesota State Fair.

Attendance was down slightly at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, from last year’s 1,790,497 to 1,776,116.

But concerts by Kiss and Weird Al, along with a whole new menu of fried items that pushed the fair’s food sales up, led to a strong attendance that was less than one percent below last year.

“We’re always chasing last year,” said GM Jerry Hammer. “Last year was our best year ever. We can’t do that every year.”

The strong attendance for the Aug. 26-Sept. 6 fair also was in spite of huge changes in weather that ranged from rain to high humidity to cold blustery days, compared to last year’s consistently good weather.

“We still wound up virtually even with last year, so that’s remarkable,” Hammer said.

Gate revenues last year were $14.6 million and Hammer expects them to remain in the $14-million range again this year.

As for the food, that actually was up.

“When it’s cool, people eat more,” Hammer said. “Most people didn’t change their pricing at all. We had some very cool days in the latter part of the fair.”

Although some vendors did raise their prices, Hammer attributes the $30.8 million revenues compared to last year’ $29.8 million more to the weather than to price adjustments.

And fairgoers had plenty of new foods to try. Just ticking off the new items available was a long list: Caramel Apple Puppies, a Belgian waffle with baked apple and caramel; corndog pizza; chicken fried bacon; the Chocolate Tornado, a spiral-cut potato dipped in chocolate; Cincinnati Chili, spaghetti noodles covered in chili and topped with beans, cheese and onions; the Danny Boy Burger, a hamburger made of corned beef covered with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing; deep-fried bacon cheddar mashed potatoes on a stick; deep-fried bologna on a stick; deep-fried shortcake; fried pig ears; Ghost Wings, chicken wings covered in habanero sauce; grilled marshmallow, chocolate and banana sandwich and the Somali dish camel on a stick.

“That’s just the new stuff. That’s not all of it,” Hammer said. “The whole thing is an event.”

The 13,500-seat State Fair Grandstand saw four sellouts: Rush, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood and Kiss, who brought in 17 semis full of stuff, “as in the most over-the-top show we’ve ever done,” Hammer said.

The fair had no problem accommodating the band, however. “Not at all,” Hammer said. “It was fantastic.”

The fair’s independent midway featured 63 rides alltogether, said deputy GM Jim Sinclair, 31 on the Kidway and 32 on the regular midway.

Twenty-five ride owners and 14 game operators provided attractions, with Alamo Amusements and Playworld Unlimited placing the most on the midway at six each, Sinclair said.

Revenues of $5.2 million are down 3.7 percent from last year.

Pay-one-price wristbands were not offered, Sinclair said. Ride coupons cost 75 cents each or $20 for 30, $30 for 50 and $10 for 20 in advance.

“While revenues were down a bit, in some measure due to the extremes in heat, humidity and cool temperatures experienced during the 12-day fair, we were extremely pleased with the total presentation – the number of rides, shows and games, their placement and capacity to serve fair guests as well as the overall performance on our independent midway,” Sinclair said.

Gate admission cost $11 for ages 13 to 64 while 65 and up was $9 and ages 5 to 12 were $8, Hammer said. Advance tickets cost $9.

In December, Hammer said, fair officials look at the bottom line to make a decision about whether or not to raise gate admission and they did not this year.

“We’ll do a budget and see what it will cost to produce the fair and what work we need to do to the facility,” he said.

“Last year, we took a look at the projected year, and as we always do, we based it on an OK year because you can’t budget for a great year.”

That said, the fair had a pretty good year last year and did not raise prices.

The fair has $180 million worth of buildings and infrastructure to maintain, Hammer said, and about $5-$6 million in capital is spent each year on maintenance and improvement.

The overall fair budget is $35 million.

In marketing, which has a budget of $1.6 million, “I think like everybody else, we’re tilting more toward the Web,” Hammer said. “We still use plenty of broadcast and print, but in most cases, rather than getting specific information through traditional media, we drive people to the Web to get just about everything. We have very high traffic.”

Next year’s dates will be Aug. 25-Sept. 5. –  Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Jerry Hammer and Jim Sinclair, (651) 288-4400


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