Fair "broke" but keeping ticket prices low

By Lindsey Gordon

Published 07/18 2014 11:02PM

Updated 07/21 2014 12:28PM

URBANA -- The county fair is in its 162nd year and, like some in Central Illinois, it’s having a hard time making ends meet. The fair board is keeping ticket prices low. They say the idea is to keep people coming.

Board president Mike Kobel says they expect between 50,000 and 60,000 people to pass through the fair gates; people who will be paying for food and riding the rides, so the fair board wants to keep it affordable for families to enjoy.

"It just seems like it's gone downhill every year, every year, every year," said Janet Manning, who has been coming to the Champaign County fair since she was a child.

Mike Kobel says that’s okay because the county fair is a not-for-profit.   

"We've been broke since day one," said Kobel.

They’ve managed to stay afloat by bringing in big acts. Like this year, it's got American Idol star Scotty McCreery. They expect that show to sell out.

"When we have a big act and we have a good night with that concert, it helps other things. We're able to make improvements on the grounds, whether our building needs a roof, or a new cattle barn," said board secretary John Bells.

A sold out show equals 7,200 people. That means 7,200 more customers to eat Jim Cullers’ fries. He’s been on the midway for many years.

"I think the numbers overall are probably down a bit, but all-in-all this fair has held up fairly well," said Cullers.

Even though less money could mean fewer improvements, the fair board doesn’t seem to be worried.

"It's a balancing act and the best thing that can happen is great weather and I think we're going to have that," said Kobel.  

"It's been here for a long, long time. It’s tradition, it's honor and we really, really enjoy it," said Bells.  

Fair security isn't ignoring recent community violence, nor national terrorism threats during patrols. The sheriff's department says the last few years have been quiet; no major problems on the ground.

But, they say they'll get updates if anything major happens elsewhere. The Champaign County Sheriff's Department works with a private security firm hired by fair organizers.

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