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Fair Week great for business

The View from Here

PHILADELPHIA — Sales tax collections might be down in Mississippi. The national economy might be sputtering. But business is great in Neshoba County.

It’s Fair Week.

Families moved entire households to the 600 or so cabins covering the red dirt at the Neshoba County Fairgrounds late last week, and that moving means packed SUVs and pick-up truckloads of bacon, bread, ham, pickles and potato chips along with cheap paperbacks, batteries, cell phones, film and cleaning supplies. And more than a few cases of beer.

You add it all up, throw in the new clothes, a few bucks to blow at the Silver Star, money for oil changes, gas or plane tickets to get here, and you have one expensive week to sit on a porch, sweating and talking with old friends and dodging the politicians who “really would appreciate your support.”

And there’s no telling what those politicos spend on campaign paraphernalia, which only ends up littering the mud after the first afternoon thundershower. Or the amount of money used to buy advertising in The Fair Times, which for one week every year is the most anticipated and enjoyed newspaper in the state.

I don’t even want to think about what the Saturday morning flea market and shopping sprees at Williamsville will end up costing. Or the money we spend on bag after bag of ice, Polish sausages around midnight on the midway, tickets for the carnival rides and games or Neshoba County Fair 2001 t-shirts.

About a year ago, MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. wrote a story about the money spent during Fair Week:

All of that overlooks the sizable economic impact of the week-long event that kicks off July 21. Kenneth Breland is president of Breland Building Supply in Philadelphia, and also president of the 20-member volunteer board of directors that handles the myriad of details and headaches that go with the event. The Fair had receipts last year that exceeded a million dollars for the first time in its 111-year history.

“That’s pretty big economic development,” Breland said. “We’re told that money turns over seven times. The labor alone runs about $300,000.”

• • •

The 601 cabins and the 350 camper-trailers, where people live during the fair week, are on land owned by the Fair association. And if you’re interested in a space, forget it — there’s none left. The trailers are moved after the event, but the two- and three-story cabins are permanent, although Breland said nine were completely replaced this year at cost of $60,000-$70,000 each.

Asked how much of a hand Breland Building Supply had in that approximate $600,000 expenditure, Breland simply said, “They’re good customers, and all of them have to have repairs.”

This year, Bill’s putting together a piece on the rising value of cabins. Look for that story in next week’s issue.

One of my favorite early afternoon activities at the Fair is the run to town.

Before the harness racing starts at two o’clock, we pile into the car and drive to Philadelphia to pick up a few things.

The list almost always includes:

• toilet paper

• milk

• eggs

• beer

Rarely do we limit our shopping to the list.

Last year, my friend Brad Morris bought a jar of pickled okra, which he savored lounging in a lawn chair later that afternoon.

He, of course, had the whole jar to himself.

It’s also important to end the trip to town with a stop for boiled peanuts on the way back to the fairgrounds.

I was talking to a friend of mine a few weeks ago about the amount of money folks invest in their Fair cabins. He said that it was a lot of capital to have tied up in a place where you don’t own the land, most folks only use once a year and demands time and even more money for maintenance.

He’s right. It is a little strange. But when you walk onto the fairgrounds that first Friday night, you realize that all the money, all the time, even the irritating relatives — it’s all worth it.

And for a lot of businesses in Neshoba County and the rest of East Central Mississippi, that investment is pretty good for the bottom line, too.

The 2001 Neshoba County Fair will be held July 20-27. For more information, go online at www.neshobacountyfair.org.

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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