Even the nostalgia surrounding such a venerable institution as the Ohio State Fair does not defend it against the winds of change, especially if the force is generated by political machines operated by parties with private agendas.
The Ohio State Fair just concluded drew record crowds and is expected to break even. On the face of it that sounds like a successful record for a publicly run entity at a time when red ink is spewing over the ledgers of governments at all levels.
Attendance at the fair was just over a million visitors, including 707,997 paid visitors, and no financial loss is anticipated. Even so, a fair official said the event next year will be cut to 12 days from the current 17-day run. A number of reasons were given, including the fact that the fair competed against 40 concerts in central Ohio while it was open.
General Manager Rick Frenette said the 10,000-seat Celeste Center was filled only once. Two other groups drew crowds of 8,000 and 5,000 respectively. Intermittent rains affected attendance at some events. Perhaps a shorter season would help fill the Celeste Center seats because more performances could be packed into fewer evenings.
But it should be remembered that the fair's roots go back a good deal farther than those of competing concert ventures. And if “our state fair is the best state fair,” a line from one of the hit songs of the classic movie, State Fair, it has to be an all-embracing event that attracts visitors from all walks of life and all age groups.
That's the way a fair should be. Spectators come from everywhere, some to look at traditional exhibits, to wander around machinery displays, to frequent the midway, and of course to attend entertainment events and harness races.
Rural visitors are as sophisticated as anyone else, and they do not sunburn the roofs of their mouths looking up at the gaudier attractions. Still, there's a good deal of small-town, Norman Rockwell America in every citizen. If they were not raised in small towns, many of their relatives were. County and state fairs are civic celebrations in the best sense of the word. The longer fair served a useful purpose by enabling visitors to take in more attractions.
The economic concerns of competing concert promoters should not take precedence over the interests of such a venerable institution as the Ohio State Fair, long considered one of America's best. Yes, fair managers can pack a lot of attractions into fewer days, and “pack” is the operative word here.
But without stronger evidence that the fair is broken, why fix it?