Area support for Merced's spring fair in Los Banos goes up

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comMarch 29, 2013 

— For two years, the Merced County Spring Fair has survived thanks to the generosity of the community.

Los Banos' five-day run lost $150,000 to $180,000 in financial support from the state in 2011 when Gov. Jerry Brown cut funding to fairs.

Fair Manager Ron Brandt said the key to making up that shortfall has been everyone's support of the fair.

"Attendance has been extremely good, and support from our sponsors and vendors," Brandt said. "I guess this is the new normal. We are not supported by the state or the county."

He said vendors have paid a little more than they were accustomed to for participation in the fair, and the Merced County Spring Fair Heritage Foundation has stepped up fund raising.

Brandt said he has had to make cuts in some areas, but it was important that the cuts did not impact the fair experience.

"We did not cut into the fair entertainment budget, we added to it," Brandt said.

He said slicing money for entertainment could have led to lower attendance, which would bring in less revenue. Brandt said attendance has been about 70,000 for the past few years.

The Western Fairs Association has 78 members. Stephen Chambers, Western Fairs executive director, said that after the state cut funding, it became trendy for fairs to rent out their facilities to raise money.

"That's new," Chambers said. "Fairs were places where rotary clubs and other groups raised funds for themselves. Now fairs are renting out spaces to get money for the fair."

The Los Banos Fairgrounds has rented out its facilities for private functions for years. Its Heritage Foundation was started in recent years in response to dwindling state funding. Chambers said the reverse is true for most fairs. He said the majority of his members have had fund-raising groups for years.

Chambers said the California Department of Food and Agriculture made up to $40,000 available to small and medium-sized fairs this year.

Chambers said he believes fair funding will be reinstated as the economy comes back, but probably not at the level it had been at.

"We're the only group who saw a 100 percent cut. Fairs are responsible for 30,000 jobs. Just the sales tax alone means that fairs are important enough to (fund)," Chambers said. "We believe there's always going to be public and government money for fairs."

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