By Polly Keary, Editor
A month before the fair, 18 people crowd around a table in a too-warm boardroom and give reports.
There are 60 golf carts ready for organizers. ID bracelets are still needed for the lost-and-found. There is a new stage; the maps have been updated.
It sounds like things are well in-hand.
But when Evergreen State Fair Director Hal Gausman says, “28 days left to go,” there is a groan and a sigh as people rock back in their chairs and fan themselves.
There is never quite enough time to put together Washington’s second-largest fair, but somehow every year all the pieces come together, from beverages in the dressing rooms for the entertainers to thousands of ribbons for exhibitors. And according to organizers, setting up the fair is a year-round job.
“We start getting ready for the next fair the day after the fair is over,” said one key organizer.
Before the fair even ends, the supervisors are making lists of the supplies they will need the following year.
By October, fair representatives are already trying to recruit sponsors for the next fall’s fair. The daily schedule and theme days are planned in November. Entertainment, especially the headliners, is also booked in the fall.
Supplies for the supervisors are ordered in early winter. In late winter, the superintendents of each of the exhibit halls, such as canned goods, or rabbits, start recruiting judges. By May, the exhibitor handbook is complete.
There are about 40 radio stations the fair contracts with, and hundreds of contracts for the vendors who show their goods.
Just a few weeks before the fair, tasks explode in number and urgency, as well as variety. One woman counted out 600 paper plates for the baking contests while also working on coordinating an army of hundreds of volunteers and part time employees. And each year, the fair orders about 125,000 ribbons, ranging from small stickers that every entry gets to the large, showy ribbons for the best entries.
Supervisors start accepting contest entries for things like cordials more than a month before the fair and each day, more exhibits arrive, from least perishable to most, as the days go on.
Volunteers unroll thousands of square feet of brightly colored plastic sheeting to transform the barns.
“You should see the number of staples we go through,” said one worker.
“It’s putting together a whole city for 12 days,” said one of the key organizers (all asked not to be named, as none wanted to be perceived as taking credit). “There’s fire and forest aid, police and lost children, admissions, and money in the ARTMS, and the production, entertainment, the lumberjack people; it goes on and on.”
During the fair, it takes an army of people to make everything work. Trash collectors operate 24 hours a day. Every night, about a truck trailer load of shavings comes out of the barns. Maintenance crews work in three shifts, morning, midday, and long into the night. Each day, there are safety meetings.
And there can be odd last minute crises: one entertainer came up needing dancers for his show, and a fair organizer had to scramble around Seattle trying to find him a chorus line. Another entertainer, getting on in years, needed oxygen.
One year a chicken got loose and ran through the fairgrounds. Another year, a buffalo ambled out of a pen. A third year, the roaming creature was human; there was a streaker running through the fair.
All in all, it takes more than 1,000 people and $3.4 million to host the fair each year. But unlike many fairs, it typically winds up in the black.
And even though it’s overwhelming, it’s rewarding, said Hal Gausman, director of the fair.
“It’s fun, and non-stop,” he said.