That’s the only word that came to Billy Orr’s mind when asked to describe this year’s Mississippi State Fair, which concluded Sunday afternoon.
“Everything has been fine, except for the weather,” said the long-time executive director for the State Fair Commission. “It rained and rained every day except for the first Sunday.”
Though final figures weren’t immediately available, attendance for the 150th anniversary of the State Fair was down by approximately 40 percent, he estimated.
Orr could not recall a wetter fair.
“In 2004, we had an entire weekend rained out but nothing like this,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about the weather. Its just part of the game when you have an outside show.”
For years, State Fair food vendors have counted on downtown Jackson workers to sample their wares during the lunch hour and fatten their bottom line. However, inclement weather has kept many from venturing out to the Fairgrounds for an elephant ear or pronto pup.
Mary Alderson is manager of The Best Around, a fair concession wagon that sells hamburgers, steak sandwiches and onion rings. She said business is off more than 50 percent at this year’s State Fair.
“Oh, yes, it has been terrible from a sales standpoint,” said Alderson, who has worked state fairs around the nation for the past 15 years. “I’ve never quite seen the rain that we’ve had this year. October is supposed to be one of the driest months.”
With only two dates left in the 2009 fair season, Alderson concedes that her food stand can’t make up revenues lost to the rainy weather.
“It’s okay – I’m ready to get home to my grandchildren,” she said. “I love doing this and we’ll be back next year.”
Only 18, Logan Pike operates the Mr. Turkey Leg concession and has worked at the State Fair for the past eight years.
“My grandmother runs the roasted corn stand over there,” he said, pointing down the midway.
In between helping a pair of customers, Pike said the rain put a damper on 2009 sales.
“(Business) has been down quite a bit this year and the wet weather has kept people away,” said the Brandon resident. “We’ve had one good day and we actually matched the (sales) numbers that we had last year.”
Billed as the “world’s largest and finest traveling midway company,” Ridgeland-based North American Midway Entertainment produces the Mississippi State Fair and 10 of the top 50 fairs in the United States, serving 21 million fairgoers annually. NAME spokesperson Amber Swedgan said revenues were down for this year’s State Fair due to the weather.
“Of course, we’d like to have 12 perfect days of sunshine but you can’t control Mother Nature,” she said. “Overall, we’ve had a very good year and the company set 10 new records for ride revenues thus far. The economy isn’t affecting us – people are staying close to home and turning out for their state fairs.”
Wet weather affected both the Tennessee (Nashville) and Mid-South (Memphis) fairs as well, said Swedgan.
“Eight out of 10 days for both those fairs were very rainy,” she said.
By NASH NUNNERY I STAFF WRITER
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