Du Quoin fair sees record crowds, high vendor sales

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

DU QUOIN, Ill. -- Once dismissed as the country cousin of the bigger state fair in Springfield, the Du Quoin State Fair in southeastern Illinois is on a winning streak, attracting record crowds and enticing them into spending increasing amounts of money on food and souvenirs.

Vendors at the annual Du Quoin fair, which ended its two-week run Sept. 2, paid $76,000 in sales tax this year, up 6 percent from last year and 9 percent from the year before, according to Department of Revenue figures released Monday.

The sales were for food or any other retail item at the fair and do not include tickets to entertainment events.

Vendors in Springfield paid $276,000 in sales tax this year, down 2 percent from last year and 4 percent from the year before, according to the Revenue Department.

Each fair reported new attendance records this year: 1.3 million in Springfield and more than 500,000 in Du Quoin. Each said total revenue slumped slightly this year, weighed down by sagging grandstand sales.

But the fact that vendors' self-reported earnings have risen substantially for the second year in a row at Du Quoin, located amid barren coal fields in the poorest part of the state, reflects well on the Du Quoin fair, said fair manager Sammye Fark.

"There are a number of legislators who would in a heartbeat say we don't need two state fairs," she said. "But as long as we can keep doing what we're doing, we'll justify our existence."

Fark attributed the rise in vendors' self-reported earnings to a change in way the vendors pay for their space at the fair. This season, organizers stopped charging vendors a percentage of their sales and instead raised the flat fee they pay on their stands, she said.

In Springfield, vendors pay 12 percent of their gross sales as well as a fee for their stands, said Springfield fair manager Bud Ford. He said he suspects some vendors underreport their sales to limit their tax bill.

"Some of our people ... aren't reporting accurately what their sales are," he said.

Ford said he favors changing the Springfield fair's fee structure to resemble Du Quoin's.

The fair in the state's southern tip has come a long way since the state bailed out its previous owners, the Saleh Jabr family, who had threatened to cancel the fair the day before the opening ceremony in 1985 because of financial problems.

Two years before, several concessionaires folded their stands and left early, complaining about poor attendance and sagging sales.

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