Reporter Times – Keith Rhoades
A floundering economy, which has been bad for many businesses, may have boosted revenue and attendance for fairs in 2008 — but organizers disagree on what 2009 will bring.
The annual Indiana Association of Fairs, Festivals, and Events ended its three day convention Sunday in Indianapolis and many of those who attended, from performers to booking agents, to fair and festival board members reported having a good 2008, in part because people couldn’t afford to go away for vacation.
Larry Vandenberg, president of the association, said 2008 was good for most of the association’s members. He said most fairs reported a record year because many people couldn’t afford to travel and stayed home. Those who stayed home attended their local fair or festival, he said. For 2009, Vandenberg said he thinks it will be a good year.
“The only thing I see is that, with the economy, sponsorships will be down. And that will affect fairs that will not want to bring in an act or other special event without sponsorship money to help pay for it. He said some acts may have to change if they want to be completive and be booked this year.
Melody Hodson, of Hodson Concessions, learned a new term, which she said likely contributed to a good 2008 for their food wagons, which have been at the Fall Foliage Festival for several years.
Hodson said the term “stay-cation” comes from people who, when they go on vacation, are staying home. Instead of traveling to places for their vacation, people are staying home and going to the fairs, festivals and other local events she said.
“They’re not going away, they’re staying home,” she said.
But 2008 wasn’t all positive for Hodson, who said the high cost of fuel hurt.
“I never thought I would be happy to see $4 a gallon diesel fuel again,” she said.
Fuel seemed to be one thing that did hurt many of the fair businesses
“Fuel became one of my partners,” said Andy Schoendienst, of Luehr’s Ideal Rides Inc. Schoendienst, whose carnival comes to Martinsville during the Fall Foliage Festival, said they had a good year in 2008. Unfortunately the cost of fuel hurt. In addition to the cost of fuel for traveling from town to town, the carnival uses large generators to provide electricity for the show.
“We used about 700 gallons of diesel fuel a day for the generators,” he said.
As for 2009, Schoendienst said he is optimistic. “I’m a very optimistic person. I’m a firm believer that optimism breeds optimism. If you start talking good about something, things will get better.”
And he uses that philosophy when talking about the business in general.
“We have something for everyone, we provide good family entertainment for the community. No matter how bad the economy gets, people will come out,” Schoendienst said.
Alfred Wolfram, of Alfy’s “World of Robotic Puppets, was one of the exhibitors at the convention. In business for more than 40 years, he said 2008 was a good year financially.
“We had the best of all worlds in 2008,” Wolfram said. But his outlook isn’t as rosy as Schoendienst’s.
“I worry that bookings won’t come in, but they always do,” Wolfram said. For 2009, he has no idea what will happen, but he said over they years, he has found that when one door closes, another will open.
Susannah Holder, of The Robinson Family vocal group, said it was a tough year for everybody. Holder said the family has a lot of equipment they travel with and the high cost of fuel hurt. She believes that 2009 will be better because, “people will pull up their boot straps and help each other.”
Gary Bohlander, of Poor Jack Amusements, said they had a tough spring, but once the fairs started, business picked up. Their carnival was set up at a location that flooded during the June rain. They were shut down for about two days because of flooding in June, but were able to quickly reopen. Bohlander provides the carnival at the Morgan County Fair. He said business was great at the local fair.
“For the third year in a row, we set a record for money paid to the fair,” he said. Poor Jack gave the Morgan County Fair $31,784.
For 2009, Bohlander said he is somewhat pessimistic about the future.
“Over the years, our business has been really pretty recession proof and I hope that continues, especially for the fairs,” Bohlander said.
Rob Helms, of the local band Bigg County, said 2008 was one of the band’s best years performance wise.
“We performed more this year than any year Bigg Country has been together,” he said.
For 2009, Helms said he already has bookings for November.
“It hasn’t slowed down a bit,” he said. Helms said he is not sure how bad the economy is because, for him, business is still good.
Helms said for him, the flooding that occurred in June was the worst part of 2008.