Tradition Ends: No Michigan State Fair This Year

Corey Williams, Washintgon Post, September 1, 2010

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{snip} Democratic Gov. Jennifer {snip} Granholm’s decision makes Michigan the only Midwestern state and one of few nationwide without a state fair.

The Michigan State Fair had been a state tradition for 160 years and held at Eight Mile and Woodward, within Detroit city limits, since 1905. But the fair had been running deficits and needed $360,000 from the state in 2008 to cover losses. Fewer than 220,000 people passed through last year. At its peak in 1966, the fair drew 1 million.

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Like those in other states, the Michigan fair had its roots in agrarian fairs in Europe, where farmers met to discuss farming techniques and equipment. As waves of immigrants came to the U.S., they influenced the fairs, which added ethnic foods and other attractions.

One thing that hurt the Michigan fair was the state’s economy. Michigan’s unemployment rate of 15.2 percent led the nation in August 2009 when the last fair was held. Detroit’s jobless rate is about 30 percent.

But part of the problem also seems to have been the fair’s inability to successfully marry its agrarian roots with money-making entertainment as other state fairs have done.

“State fairs, like the one in Iowa, attendance is up or steady because they have been made as major tourist attractions,” said Pam Riney-Kehrberg, professor of agriculture history and rural studies at Iowa State University. “In states where they haven’t been able to cultivate a special ethos for the fair, numbers are going down.”

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He thought one problem was the fair’s reliance on state subsidies because when those ended, the fair essentially collapsed.

“We don’t have any government support here, and that is critical to our success,” he said.

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In Michigan, agriculture remains the No. 2 industry behind manufacturing, and the state is among the nation’s leaders in production of sugar beets, cherries, apples, corn and other produce. Smaller fairs continue to celebrate that heritage, and at least one appears to have benefited from the state fair’s closing.

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