Anybody out there want some free pancakes?
The Clark County Fair opens this morning with the traditional pancake breakfast promotion sponsored by Fred Meyer.
Over its 10-day run, the fair will be serving up a lot more than pancakes to a crowd that will likely exceed 200,000 by the time it closes on Sunday, Aug. 14. There will be animals and elephant ears and sheep and items for your household. There will be quilts and artwork and 4-H kids by the dozen competing for ribbons, trophies and the chance to advance to the state contests at the Washington State Fair next month in Puyallup.
“Worth the Wait!” is this year’s theme, and Fair Manager John Morrison and the fair board hope it is true. After the 2019 and 2020 fairs were canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, is the fair still Summer’s Best Party? Or are our agricultural roots withering as we find more of our thrills online?
“We did a lot of planning for this fair since there have been two years without it,” Morrison told The Columbian’s Zoë Buhrmaster. “We wanted to add value, we did not want to increase the gate price at all, and we wanted to upgrade some of the things people are used to seeing.”
In addition to regular attractions like Dock Dogs and the Zipper, this year’s featured exhibits are Wild Science! and a NASCAR simulator. The usual mix of shows — popular music concerts for the first part of the fair, then rodeo events, and finally, motor sports — will play in the grandstand. Although some reserved seats can be purchased for the concerts, grandstand seating is always free.
“One of the things that I’m proud about for this fair is that when you come on the grounds, you can do everything that’s on these grounds for free, unless you eat it or ride it,” Morrison said.
But fairs are a business, and the Clark County Fair is no exception. Morrison says that like other employers, the fair has been having trouble lining up enough help this year. Inflation is taking its toll, too, and there have been concerns and conversations about preventing the fair from becoming a COVID super-spreader.
Weather can also be a downer. The 2019 fair was marked by several days of rain, and several days of too-hot weather, both of which depressed attendance. Although the fairgrounds’ Exhibit Hall is fully air conditioned, other buildings are not, and some attractions, such as the carnival, are entirely outside.
These challenges aren’t unique to Clark County, of course. Washington had 69 agricultural fairs in 2019, which created 3,200 jobs and brought in total revenue of $61.8 million, according to a report by a Seattle consulting firm commissioned by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. According to the report, the Clark County Fair was the state’s fourth largest in terms of attendance, at 208,000. That’s equivalent to 40 percent of the county’s population. (The largest fair, the state fair in Puyallup, attracted more than 1.1 million people during its 20-day run.)
The study also found that in 2019, Washington fairs contributed:
- $397 million in total business revenue to the state’s economy.
- $152 million in labor income, including benefits.
- $10 million in tax revenue, including sales taxes, business and occupation taxes, and other taxes.
Fairs are business enterprises. They’re educational. They’re entertaining. They’re a celebration of our agricultural roots. They are part of what it means to be an American.
It’s fair time.