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They work hard for the money

The COVID-19 pandemic obviously changed things for most state fairs. But in the years prior to the pandemic, many fairs had seen steadily growing attendance, and in the years since (after government stimulus saved many of them), the attendees have returned in droves.

The Minnesota State Fair is the second-biggest state fair in the U.S., beaten only by the Texas State Fair — but this isn’t a completely accurate comparison, since the TSF runs twice as long.

The Minnesota State Fair (MSF) employs 80 year-round, full-time staff.

The logistics involved in setting up the MSF are enough to make your head spin like you just stepped off the Gravitron.

First, the fairground needs to be prepared and rides set up.

For instance, the famous “Great Big Wheel”, a ferris wheel that rises 156 feet into the air, weighs about 400,000 pounds and arrives on 13 semi trucks. It takes a 12-person crew, with the help of a 200-ton crane, around 480 hours to assemble and disassemble this one ride.

Along with putting up the rides, concession booths need to be rented, and hundreds of seasonal employees hired.

It's a short-lived (about two weeks, from start to finish), intense flurry of activity, as crews work tirelessly to get everything ready before opening day.

All that work is worth it, though: In 2022, after expenses, the Minnesota State Fair made $9.6 million.

Its income is mostly derived from three streams: admissions, renting booths to vendors, and renting out their event space throughout the rest of the year.

In 2022, ticket sales (which include gate admission, parking and Grandstand tickets) accounted for 47% of the Minnesota State Fair’s revenue.

Food vendors also gobble profits, after they pay the organizers their 15% cut.

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Another one bites the crust

Part of a state fair’s timeless allure is all of the food you can eat. Deep-fried pickles, corn dogs, funnel cake — there are plenty of mouth watering options for whatever your taste buds desire.

Martha Rossini Olson, the former-teacher-turned-vendor whose bakery business, Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar, has three locations at the MSF, made over $3 million in profits in 2021.

In 2023, the Minnesota State Fair will host about 300 different concessions which will serve up over 500 snacks.

The Minnesota State Fair’s food and beverage director says the fair has less than 5% turnover of food vendors every year, so every time someone cancels, the free space is snapped up.

All the food seems to get snapped up, too. The farmer who supplies the MSF with roasted corn on the cob grows 25 acres of a specialty variety, just for fairgoers.

The top 10 best-selling vendors at the MSF in 2022 brought in a staggering combined total revenue of almost $15 million dollars.

The carousel of time

The state fair is an annual reminder that life is a carnival, and that we're all along for the ride.

From the deep-fried food and petting zoos to the barkers enticing you to try and win a giant stuffed octopus, fairs have an unchanging quality about them, all while they adapt to changing times.

Having started as agricultural exhibitions, with the demise of the family farm they have turned into fun outings for citified families. The MSF has safety protocols in place for heat stroke, allergic reactions, and active shooters. And while the pandemic is receding in the funhouse rearview mirror, there are still pandemic-related updates and precautions being taken.

So next time you’re taking in the sights and sounds of the midway, remember that behind all the fun and frivolity, there’s a well-oiled machine working tirelessly to make the magic happen — all in the hopes that you’ll enjoy the ride

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Bronwyn Petry Email Specialist

Bronwyn is currently part of the email content team for Moneywise. Before starting here, they freelanced for several years, focusing on B2B content and technical copy. Pre-pandemic, you could find them planning their next trip, but lately, if they're not at work, you can find them hanging out with their cat and dog.

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