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Fair wishes: better carnies, admission options

My Opinion
Alan Stewart, Staff Writer

The most memorable part of the 155th consecutive annual Harrison County Fair, which took place earlier this month at the fairgrounds in Corydon, would have to be the weather. Even the most seasoned veterans of the longest running fair in the state of Indiana agreed that outside of Monday night, July 14, when about an inch of rain fell in 40 minutes, the weather was the cat’s meow all week, with temperatures barely topping 80 degrees each day.
Those kinds of conditions typically bring out the crowds, and fair week was no exception. People enjoyed the lemon shake-ups, rib-eye sandwiches, seeing livestock and, of course, watching the grandstand shows each day of the week-long fair.
What many didn’t like, however, were the new $10 entrance fee and the rides.
Actually, it wasn’t so much the rides themselves, although there were a few grumblings about how safe they seemed to have been and the variety offered. Most of the gripes were regarding the people operating the rides.
There were complaints of foul language, rudeness, cat-calls and even alleged drug use.
Here’s a Live Wire call we received: ‘The rides (at the Harrison County Fair) may have been better, but the people who were running them were not. They were dirty, filthy and had very foul language.’
Of course, the aforementioned phone call came from Live Wire in the Aug. 18, 1999, edition of this newspaper, so it goes to show that the problem with carnies certainly isn’t new.
The typical carnie is living a nomadic life, going from one fair stop to the next while working long hours for little pay. It almost goes without saying that carnies probably aren’t going to be Harvard graduates. That’s not judgment. It’s simply a fact of life that those who go to the county fair have to live with.
But, for the Harrison County Agriculture Society board, if one of the selling points of the $10 admission fee to the fair is all-you-can-ride rides, then the face of that selling point are the people operating them. Cursing at riders, whistling at young girls and drug use by operators shouldn’t be tolerated by the ride company or the fair board.
In speaking with someone in the know, the board is already looking into other ride companies for when the contract expires for the current company. What many people don’t know is there isn’t a large pool of carnival ride providers, and the fair board is at the mercy of what providers are available because other fairs may be going on at the same time.
We trust the board is doing the best it can in finding a suitable replacement and draws a hard line when it comes to the conduct of carnies.
Regarding the $10 entrance fee, one of the commenters on the fair’s Facebook page suggested taking a look at Meade County’s fair across the Ohio River in Kentucky and how they do things when it comes to gate fees and ride tickets. What’s interesting is that Meade County uses the same $10 admission fee, which ‘ like Harrison County ‘ includes unlimited rides and admission to the grandstand. One different aspect to its entrance fee is children younger than 2 are admitted free but must purchase individual ride tickets.
Fairs throughout the state are moving to the pay-one-price setup, so our situation is not unique.
One change I’ve championed for years is that the fair should offer some admission options like dollar-off coupons or sell discounted tickets the day of the Harrison County Fair parade or sell a multi-day or week-long pass for a discounted price (buy two days and get a third day free or something along those lines). The ultimate deal would be a one-price option for a family. For instance, instead of paying $50 for a family of five, maybe a family pack would be $40 or $45, and it could only be purchased before the fair started.
These days people pinch pennies more than ever, and a money-saving option that would bring in a few more people ‘ and dollars ‘ is better than people staying at home because they can’t afford to go to the fair.
Judging by some of the changes that were made this year, the current fair board seems to be receptive to new ideas. Here’s to hoping they continue that trend and give people admission options in the future.