It's looking like a promising year for Minnesota fairs.
Attendance at the Dodge County Fair in Kasson from mid-July was reportedly up substantially, easily surpassing 38,000 people. Like Steele County, the Dodge fair is also a free fair so counting heads is impossible.
But Marilyn Lermon, who serves as president of the Dodge fair, which is Minnesota's oldest fair, said she was confident that they had more than 38,000 people come to the fair this year.
Lermon went on to say, "All of the fairs are reporting high numbers this year."
It's not just happening at fairs. Many community celebrations, festivals and events are reporting strong attendance throughout the summer.
There are likely many factors leading to the high attendance. But I'd like to offer that the most significant factor is people are sick of being homebound after a year of battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
I think people are finding a sense of relief in getting connected once again with their friends and neighbors. Every community celebration that I've been to so far, people have expressed how they are just thankful to be out and about enjoying life again.
Steele County is gearing up for Minnesota's largest county fair starting on Aug. 17. Barring any weather catastrophes, my hunch is that Steele County could see record numbers this year as well.
But fair officials will tell you that people get way too hung up on attendance figures. No one knows this more than Jerry Hammer, the general manager of the Minnesota State Fair, who happens to have connections to Steele County. He actually got his first taste of fair life at the Steele County Free Fair in 1977 when he was working for the Owatonna People's Press as sports editor. A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Hammer about attendance at the State Fair, which in 2019 attracted a record 2 million-plus people.
While attendance is one barometer of the success of an event, Hammer said he has found that attendance becomes way more important than it should be. He said that for some reason, people often zero in on daily attendance and whether it's up or down from the previous year.
Scott Kozelka, manager of the Steele County Fair, also tends to shy away from the attendance topic. He told me that the greatest satisfaction he gets is putting smiles on people's faces with the activities that go on at the fair. He also enjoys hearing their comments about how much they enjoyed the fair.
Regardless of what happens this year with attendance, one thing is certain. People will be afforded a great time with many fun activities to do. Perhaps more so than ever before, this year's Steele County fair is loaded with family fun activities. Next week we will be publishing a special section as a tribute to the fair and everything going on at it this year.
It's definitely fair time once again, and the fun is about to begin. I hope you will plan to get out this year to make up for the time lost last year.
Fair officials have been working extra hard at bringing back the fun in 2021 so now it's up to us to go in hot pursuit of enjoying it!