Hours after the final twinkling light of the midway was extinguished and weary fairgoers exited the gates for the final time this summer, Washington Town & Country Fair Chair Jon Ballmann and co-Chair Joyce Couch described this year’s festival as “the perfect fair.”
The best evidence of a successful fair, Ballmann said, were the smiles he saw while walking through the fairgrounds. “The community’s excitement for this fair was at an all-time high,” Ballmann said.
Sometimes, Couch said, those smiles turned into shouts of appreciation from fairgoers.
“As we were going place to place, it would be nothing for someone to come up to us saying, ‘Great fair! Thanks for having it,’ ” Couch said. “I really think not having the fair last year really made people hungry for it this year. People wanted to be there. They came to the fair, and they spent money.”
Approximately 57,446 tickets were scanned at the ticket booths, which Ballmann and Couch described as being lower than expected.
“I, personally, feel that there were more people there,” Ballmann said. He said using the tickets, which had an electronic bar code, is likely more accurate than what previous fair attendance reports had listed.
“With the tickets, we know hour by hour when someone came to the gate and scanned their ticket,” Ballmann said. In the past, officials guessed and relied on others to calculate attendance.
“I know that 57,000 may seem a little mediocre to some, but visually, I’m very pleased by the turnout,” he said.
According to fair records, the number of tickets scanned were: Wednesday, 9,151 tickets; Thursday, 11,253 tickets; Friday, 13,324 tickets; Saturday, 16,708 tickets; and Sunday, 7,009 tickets.
Ballmann and Couch said they were excited to see the crowds Wednesday since historically it’s one of the fair’s least-attended days. Among those attending the fair Wednesday were residents of long-term care facilities and individuals with disabilities, who receive discounted tickets from the fair as part of a longstanding outreach initiative predating Ballmann’s time on the fair board to ensure that the fair — and its educational and amusement attractions — remain accessible to all community members.
“It is just seen as the right thing to do. We don’t ever waver on that because it is a no-brainer,” Ballmann said.
The fair reported more than $1 million in total ticket revenue, including $499,790 in preseason ticket sales and $520,756 in on-site ticket sales. Preseason ticket sales were up from $373,000 in 2019, and on-site ticket sales also were up from $359,265 that same year. Of the preseason ticket sales, more than $120,000 in sales occurred when the fair offered season passes at discounted prices.
Couch said she hopes to see the discounted tickets return next year. “We want the community to have the greatest fair experience they can have while also keeping it economically friendly,” she said.
If there was any disappointment, it was in Sunday’s attendance numbers.
“While we would have liked to see numbers in the 9000s instead of 7000, the rain moved in, and I think that caused some people to stay away,” Ballmann said. He said lower attendance on Sunday did help make the final concert of the fair more intimate for fairgoers.
“Adam Doleac is somebody who a lot of people don’t know, but he is going to be somebody that everyone knows about very soon,” Ballmann said, adding that the up-and-coming music artist will soon be touring with the Zac Brown Band, which will likely raise his profile among country music fans.
“He stayed and talked to people after the show. He was just very personable,” Ballmann said.
Despite the disappointing crowd on Sunday, Ballmann and Couch said all of the Main Stage entertainers, which collectively cost $300,000, lived up to their respective hype.
“38 Special knocked it, Kip Moore knocked it, and ZZ Top double knocked it out,” Couch said. “And Adam Doleac, his music is amazing, and he did the best he could, but the weather kind of pulled a number on him.”
Ballmann said ZZ Top fans, which fair officials estimated drew a crowd of nearly 12,000 people, came to the fair early and spent the day, while fans for Kip Moore largely arrived 90 minutes prior to the start of his concert on Friday.
“In those 90 minutes, we took in over 6,000 tickets at the gates,” Ballmann said. “It was like the floodgates were suddenly opened.”
Ballmann and Couch said some new attractions such as Tumbleweed Crossing, which was this year’s chairman event, the presence of the Budweiser Clydesdales, the State Technical College of Missouri booth and the U.S. Army booth helped draw the crowds.
“We always have had a good fair, and I think our fair experience is always top-notch, but they just added something special,” Couch said.
Although the fair is expecting record revenues, Ballmann said the fair is also expecting to post record expenses as multiple staples of the fair cost more money than in previous years. This year’s carnival, for example, cost $95,000, which is higher than in previous years.
By the numbers
This year, preliminary total receipts for the fair were $1.94 million, which includes preseason ticket sales, concession purchases and other purchases made on the fairgrounds. That compares with $1.45 million in total receipts in 2019; $1.49 million in 2018; $1.37 million in 2017; and $1.45 million in 2016. Fair receipts for 2020 were largely skewed after much of the fair was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“On paper, we only had 4,000 more people than in 2019, but they spent a lot more money this year,” Ballmann said.
Total receipts by day this year were $180,652 for Wednesday; $236,367 for Thursday; $363,379 for Friday; $528,134 for Saturday; and $129,612 for Sunday.
Food receipts are expected to show a 15 percent increase while also showing that food-related expenditures increased “substantially,” according to Ballmann.
Total revenues are expected to be $3.1 million, according to fair officials. This would be the first time, according to the archives of The Missourian, that revenues have topped $3 million.
This includes the record-breaking Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction, which netted more than $864,000. The majority of this money is paid out to the livestock exhibitors. One percent of the sales’ total is retained to help finance the fair’s scholarship program, and some auction proceeds are used to pay for expenses related to the fair’s livestock shows.
“The fair is a big event, and I think people missed it, and they wanted to show us just how much they missed it,” Couch said.
The final fair report will be given in January at the annual Washington Area Chamber of Commerce business meeting. The Washington Town & Country Fair is a division of the local chamber of commerce.