Two straight rain-soaked weekends left the midway a mess at the Greater Baton Rouge State Fair, forcing organizers keep the gates closed for more than half of the fair’s 11-day run this year.
Fair officials called the record-breaking rainstorms the worst weather for the fair since 1985, when Hurricane Juan circled over Baton Rouge twice in a week.
“This is as bad of weather we’ve had in 30 years,” said J.H. Martin, chairman emeritus of the fair.
Instead of greeting visitors Sunday, the last scheduled day for this year’s fair, vendors and fair officials started packing up the midway early. Heavy rains forced the fair to shut down after just a couple of hours of business Saturday and left the parking lots and midway a muddy mess, said Cliff Barton, the fair’s chairman.
Record-setting rainfalls last weekend also forced the fair to close early that Saturday as well and remain closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of last week. In total, the fair was forced to shutter for four complete days and closed the gates early both Saturdays this year, dealing a major blow to attendance. “From what I have been told, this is the wettest October in history,” said Barton. “It’s been remarkably bad luck.”
Although final attendance and revenue figures for the fair won’t be in until next week, Barton said the fair will be lucky to break even this year.
The fair was able to save on some operating costs like security and parking lot staffing while closed, but the hit in attendance could eat deeply into the fair’s bottom line.
Profits from the annual 11-day event are turned over to the fair foundation, which donates the proceeds to local charities. Although Barton said the fair has a contingency fund to pay off bills and supplement grants during the coming year, the disastrous weather could be bad news for the numerous area organizations that apply for grants from the fair.
The grant program “could be in jeopardy as far as how much we give,” Barton said. “I am hoping that we will at least have a small profit so we can do something but I won’t know that until another month or so.”
The fair’s numerous small vendors were also hit hard by the rain. The concessionaires and food vendors rent space on the midway from the Greater Baton Rouge Fair. With more than half of the fair’s dates rained out — including both weekends — final receipts for many were nearly as gloomy as the weather.
“I know they’re disappointed since we weren’t able to open every day,” Barton said of the vendors. “Nobody really made any money this year, that’s for sure.”
Martin, who’s been working with the fair off and on since it began in 1965, said fair organizers had switched to an 11-day schedule because they figured rain was unlikely two weekends in a row, especially in October, typically one of the driest months of the year in Baton Rouge. “We knew we’d possibly have one weekend of rain but hardly ever two,” Martin said. “That’s been true all but twice in 30 years, so that’s a pretty good record.”
Just how big of a blow the weather dealt to this year’s fair won’t become clear for another month or so, Barton said, as final attendance figures are tabulated, ticket sales totaled and the bills come due. After that, it’ll be time to get to work preparing for next year’s fair.
“This was just one of those years,” Martin said. “All of our vendors have been through some of this before and they’ll all be back next year, the midway will be back next year. We’ll just have to make do and hope for a banner year in 2016.”