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State Fair’s new numbers seem to contradict vendor complaints

Monday, Sep 10, 2018

* August 21st

Attendance and sales at the Illinois State Fair declined from last year, vendors said.

Vendors also said the mostly favorable weather didn’t help boost sales for the fair that’s seen a downward trend over the past decade, The State Journal-Register reported.

“We’ve had our busy nights, don’t get me wrong,” said Kelsie Vose, whose family runs the Vose Corn Dogs stand. “But I’ve heard from a lot of vendors, not just ourselves, but most of the vendors we’ve spoken to have all been on the same page about that. It’s not just us, it’s everybody.”

McMeen’s Taffy Owner Joan Ehlers said her family has sold taffy at the fair most years since 1924. She said her business is down 50 percent from 10 years ago.

* September 7th

The Illinois State Fair in Springfield saw 369,144 people walk or drive through its gates last month, an 8 percent drop compared to last year’s fair, state officials reported Friday.

Officials noted, however, that fairgoers this year appeared to spend more money than in 2017, according to an early look at vendors’ sales receipts.

This year’s attendance total was lower than the 401,648 who attended the 2017 fair but higher than the 347,855 who passed through the gates during the 2016 event that was plagued by flooding rains, extreme heat and power outages. The 2015 state fair, the first to be counted using a different formula, attracted 411,547. […]

The Illinois Department of Revenue reports that as of Aug. 31, fair vendors’ sales receipts totaled $1,392,497.21, an increase of 16 percent over the same date last year. Vendors have until Dec. 31 to submit their fair receipts to the state.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Give Me A Break - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 10:12 am:

    Imagine that, state fair vendors saying they are making less than they really are. They always complain about the state fair and the rates they are charged but just trying prying their vending spot away from them.

    The only way we will ever really know what state fair vendors take it is to do away with the cash system and go to a ticket system where buyers purchase tickets which are used at state vendors to purchase food or items.

    If the vendors want paid, they have to turn in the tickets to the state fair in exchange for the tickets cash value.

    I suspect vendors would oppose that system.

  2. - Fixer - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 10:13 am:

    I haven’t gone the past few years, but could price changes by vendors account for the increase in revenue? Or are they charging the same as they have the last few years?

  3. - 47th Ward - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 10:17 am:

    Mmmm, corn dogs.

  4. - City Guy - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 10:42 am:

    I don’t know if this is feasible based on the schedules of students and farmers, but why not move the dates to include Labor day weekend? It wouldn’t be as hot and there are a lot of people vacationing. I would also market the State Fair harder in the Chicago metro area.

  5. - Don Gerard - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 10:51 am:

    [scary, political ad voice-over voice]: “Mike Madigan hates corn dogs…”

  6. - Colin O'Scopy - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 10:56 am:

    Maybe their revenue is down because the food they serve does not fit with healthier lifestyles. Corn dogs, deep fried Twinkies, elephant ears, while all delicious, don’t conform to anyone’s idea of “healthy eating”.

    I also agree with “Give Me a Break”. The state fair must do a better job of tracking revenue. A ticket system sounds good to me, maybe even an app on your smart phone?

  7. - Rich Miller - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 10:57 am:

    ===maybe even an app on your smart phone===

    Young people today just don’t make it a habit to carry around cash. The fair needs to change with the times.

  8. - Anonymous - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 11:31 am:

    ==I don’t know if this is feasible based on the schedules of students and farmers, but why not move the dates to include Labor day weekend?==

    That would conflict with Duquoin

  9. - Texas Red - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 11:35 am:

    “Vendors also said the mostly favorable weather didn’t help boost sales”

    Having worked/organized a number of fairs and festivals I can tell you that food vendors always have a sob story about sales. They never want to admit sales are good for fear of facing higher fees in the future.

  10. - Chicago Bars - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 11:36 am:

    Sales taxes are due monthly or quarterly for many businesses but State Fair gives vendors 4+ months to report Fair sales?

    That seems like, being charitable, archaic management.

  11. - VanillaMan - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 11:44 am:

    The vendors are correct. Taffy sales are down 50% because the generation that bought taffy is down 50%. Vose’s sales are down because there are fewer people willing to eat a $.50 mystery meat for $4.50.

    Attendance is down because the last new thing to see at the State Fair was a boarded-up Coliseum.

    We’ve gone every year, but there’s nothing new.

  12. - VanillaMan - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 11:50 am:

    You needed kids.
    They want everything they see.
    Parents buy them lots of stuff.
    But the date ovelaps the start of school.
    It costs $200 for each kid to get ready for school.
    So the Fair competes against schools and the cost of schools.
    There are also fewer things for families at the Fair.

    The Fair needs new leadership.

  13. - Anotheretiree - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 11:51 am:

    When we went in the entrance by Ag and walked toward Conv World, there was nobody following us. Astonishing. Noticed little things like the fudge sellers were gone. Nothing in the old Happy Hollow.

  14. - Anonymous - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 12:01 pm:

    Vanilla Man nails it: the fair would do much better business if was moved back a week to before school started. On the week days, the only people I see there are retired people, in the evenings, you get more folks for the grandstand and beer tents, but the big money is in family attendance with their kids. And we’re losing that because of the school year. Can’t Sam or someone file a bill to move it back a little?

  15. - Captain Ed Smith - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 12:09 pm:

    The most frequent comment I heard during the fair was the cost of admission and parking. While I believe parking is very reasonable for many families by the time they pay admission and park they have already dropped $50. That is before the rides, games, drinks, food and the like. Many families can’t afford to drop $100 to $200 for a day at the fair. Admission should be reasonable and if the state loses money so be it.

  16. - LathamPlace - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 12:23 pm:

    Vanilla Man and Captain Ed Smith totally nailed it. As a person with two young kids, August is an expensive month. So adding the fair on top of a usually eventful/expensive summer full of activities and daycare just doesn’t seem worth it to us. Or even doable at times as far as the money goes. We also have a county fair right before the state fair, which also costs an arm and a leg. Talk about nothing new….we haven’t had anything new at our county fair in 5+ years I’d say. The county fairs are barely holding on and ours gets smaller and smaller every year, yet the fees increase.

  17. - Pick a Name - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 12:41 pm:

    Change the state constitution that says the Fair starts the second Thursday in August. Many kids are starting school during the Fair.

    Start the Fair about August 3 or so and they will likely see significant increases in attendance.

  18. - Precinct Captain - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 1:05 pm:

    How are state fairs around the country doing? Always seems to be a missing story when talking about the fair here.

  19. - Perrid - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 1:26 pm:

    Did some vendors have an unusual spike in revenue? As in if the difference in average revenue per vendor was wider, then some vendors might have pulled in less money, even with a higher average. Or were prices significantly higher this year? I didn’t notice.

    Of course the most likely reason for the apparent contradiction is that no one wants to advertise they are making a killing, so to speak.

  20. - a drop in - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 3:24 pm:

    Go to a combination of cash ==> tickets for some, a wristband with ability to attach a pay type to it for others (ala Lollapalooza ). The wristband can be color coded to indicate

  21. - a drop in - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 3:26 pm:

    Wristband can indicate who is 21 and over. dropped this part.

  22. - NeverPoliticallyCorrect - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 3:42 pm:

    Just for Comparison, MN state fair has seen attendance increases over the last three years. It’s the location, who wants to go to Springfield in August. Move it to the Chicagoland area. You have something like 60% of the population within a 90 minute drive then.

  23. - City Zen - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 4:01 pm:

    == It’s the location, who wants to go to Springfield in August. Move it to the Chicagoland area.==

    Yep. MN state fair is just outside St Paul. WI state fair is just outside Milwaukee and a shorter drive from Chicago than the IL state fair. I’ve been to the WI fair a number of times this past few years: cream puffs, cheese curds, and 5-10 degree cooler temps.

  24. - Behind the Scenes - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 5:23 pm:

    Had the dubious duty of preparing the attendance estimate one year I worked a contract at the fair. A lot of pieces went into the puzzle. And the media had a cow (not butter) if the attendance count was not available by 10 the following morning. Now it’s weeks later…

    Wondered then as now why kids with hand counters couldn’t be posted at every gate to count heads coming in. Should be pretty accurate but wouldn’t distinguish single paid from passes or comps.

    School starting earlier was surely a factor (used to start the day after Labor Day).

    Practically every state surrounding Illinois also had a State Fair going on at the same time as ours. Don’t believe that used to be the case.

    Would like to see someone try to move the Fairgrounds to the Chicago area. Land prices up there are really reasonable, right?

  25. - MyTwoCents - Monday, Sep 10, 18 @ 5:46 pm:

    1) Illinois doesn’t have money for upkeep of the current fairgrounds and people expect Illinois to buy land and build a massive new fairground in an area where land is not cheap nor easy to come by in large tracts without probably needing to use eminent domain?

    2) how about shifting it a week or 2 earlier and more aggressive marketing in the Chicago area. The State could do a lot more to attract more families from the Chicago area. Deals with Amtrak or Greyhound, deals for summer kids groups from Boys & Girls Clubs, whatever.

    3) Looking at the list of where state fairs are in other states they are kind of all over the place. By state capitals (like MN), by large cities (like WI), middle of nowhere. It would be interesting to see if there’s any correlation between location & attendance.

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