A costly bill of fair?

Friday, September 13, 2002

How much does it cost to take a family to the SEMO District Fair? Parents say plenty, but they add that the delight of their children makes the cost worth it.

By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

A five-minute pony ride will cost you $4. A hamburger -- no cheese -- will cost you $2.50. "Poppin' Johnny's Home Made Ice Cream" will dish up three scoops for $3.

An "old time photo" of your darling daughter holding an antique pistol and a bottle of Jack will set you back $15. Want little Lyle in the picture in a cowboy hat holding a shotgun? That's another $4.

Your children can ride all the amusement park rides they want with a $15 arm bracelet. Got four young 'uns? Ouch.

Just ask a parent, the SEMO District Fair isn't cheap.

"It certainly isn't," agreed Melinda Goering of Sikeston, Mo., who took her three boys Thursday evening. "The rides are high and the food is way up there. It's as expensive as it can be."

But you're here, aren't you?

"Yeah, well, it's the fair," she said, shrugging. "Can't miss the fair."

That seemed to be the overwhelming sentiment from parents: Yeah, the fair costs quite a bit of money, but what are you going to do? It's the fair.

"Everything's expensive," said Bruce Austin of Charleston, Mo., who brought his granddaughter. "It's probably as reasonable as any other fair. That's just the way it is."

Nancy Lowery, who predicted she'd spend more than $100 on her four children in one night, went as far as to say it's worth it.

"Come on, the kids are really having a good time," she said. "They love the rides and just being here. I went to the fair when I was a kid and my kids aren't going to miss it. Six Flags is more expensive than this fair and at least it's right here."

Brad Quinn and his wife, Susan, brought their two children and expected to spend $50 to $60.

"If we're lucky," Susan said. "It cost so much that we're only going to bring them once. I do hear a lot of people talking about how much it is."

But Brad echoed everyone else saying that the fair is special.

"You can have a corn dog at home, but the fair corn dogs taste better," he said.

Watching costs

Pete Poe, publicity coordinator for the fair association, said that they are mindful of the costs.

"We want families to be able to come out here and enjoy themselves without spending an arm and a leg," Poe said.

He noted that they have kept admission prices at $2 for the past 12 years. Children under 12 get in free. Saturday will be a free-admission day for everyone.

There are also a lot of activities at the fair that are free, Poe said. There are livestock exhibits, exhibits in the A.C. Brase Arena Building, puppet shows, a magician, a petting zoo and an R&R tent that has free live bands.

He said that concert tickets to musical acts cost $17.50, but that also will get the ticket-holder into the fair for free.

"So we are very aware of the need to make it affordable to the family," he said. "A family of four can come to the fair a whole lot cheaper than they can go to a Cardinals game."

Poe said that the entire staff for the nonprofit event are volunteers. At any moment, there are as many as 200 volunteers. The vendors set their own prices and have to recoup rent that runs as much as $500.

"Those stands do well, but they have to pay people all week long," he said. "They also have to buy insurance and that's not cheap. I wouldn't say they make a killing, but they do well."

It seems like it really doesn't matter what they charge, based on attendance, which fair organizers expect to top 100,000.

"You just pay it," said Dorinda Abbott, who brought her two grandchildren. "It is very expensive, but it's just once a year, so what the heck? You come out here knowing it's expensive. The kids love it and we enjoy it. We really wouldn't dream of not going."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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