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More Changes In Store For Fair

County showcase going to three-day format starting in 2015

Fairgoers will have one less day to enjoy the carnival rides and other attractions at the Polk County Fair after the fair board decided to shorten the event to three days.

Fairgoers will have one less day to enjoy the carnival rides and other attractions at the Polk County Fair after the fair board decided to shorten the event to three days. Photo by Emily Mentzer.

RICKREALL — The Polk County Fair Board has voted to shorten the annual county fair by one day, removing Sunday from the schedule and going to a three-day event starting with the 2015 fair.

The board voted unanimously at its December meeting to make the move, citing a pattern of low attendance and lackluster revenue on Sundays.

“After reviewing our financials for the last few years, this change made good business sense,” said Anna Scharf, chairwoman of the Polk County Fair Board. “The fair needs to be profitable, and the fourth day was the day that was not accomplishing that.”

Comparing the number of tickets sold for Saturday — the highest attendance day — to Sunday, the drop off is substantial. During the 2014 fair, Saturday attendance was nearly 3,600, while Sunday’s was 1,800. In 2013, it was almost 3,700 on Saturday compared to 2,000 on Sunday. The revenue picture painted the same stark contrast.

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4-H and FFA members exhibiting livestock and other animals will now only have to care for their critters for three days during the shortened Polk County Fair.

“If you look at Saturday’s total gate (revenue), Sunday brings in half the revenue as Saturday,” Scharf said. “People want to get out of there. Vendors want to go home. The kids want to go home.”

In fact, in recent years there has been a decline in vendors willing to stay at the fair for Sunday’s final day.

Post-fair vendor surveys had some merchants commenting that they can make more revenue selling items on Internet sites like Etsy than they can staffing a booth for four days at the fair, Scharf noted in an announcement about the move. The hope is the fair will be able to book more vendors with a three-day schedule.

“We couldn’t come up with good argument not to do it,” Scharf said of the move to three days.

Another issue is that the animal barns are only partially full on Sunday, as many of the animals sold at Saturday’s popular youth livestock market auction have been already loaded out.

“Why would you pay full admission to see empty barns?” Scharf said.

Switching to a three-day fair is the biggest in a series of changes that have been implemented in recent years. At the 2014 fair, 4-H exhibits were moved to the Arts and Crafts Building to give them more room, the carnival was moved to the parking lot to give it more visibility, and the main entertainment stage was removed and a more modern temporary one brought in.

“We knew last year we needed to make changes in hopes of bringing in more people to the fair,” said Tina Andersen, Polk County Fair Manager. “The response we got to the changes was very positive, but we need to do more.”

The board’s biggest concern with moving to a three-day event was how to fit all of the 4-H and FFA events into a shortened schedule. Scharf said the board consulted 4-H leaders and parents, Polk County 4-H program faculty, as well as FFA advisors before voting on the change.

With some tweaks in the schedule, the board believes it can squeeze everything into three days, including Sunday’s biggest draw — the tractor pull.

“We are not going to get rid of the tractor pull,” Scharf stressed.

Scharf added her hope for the new schedule will be that there is more to do at the fair at all times.

“I want people to think, ‘There some (are so?) many things to do, I don’t know how to choose,’” Scharf said. “We are still going (to?) offer a full fair. We are just going to do it in three days.”

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