The late Gov. Rudy Perpich’s favorite informal measure of Minnesota’s economic health was the count of building cranes swinging over downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis. (He’d relish the view of Downtown East from the Star Tribune’s Portland Avenue perch just now.)
We’re partial to another marker: State Fair attendance. It hit a record high of 1,824,830 during the 12-day run that ended Monday, topping by more than 34,000 the previous record set in the recession year of 2009. For a state populated by about 5.3 million people, that’s phenomenal participation.
The 2009 mark was testimony to Minnesotans’ unwillingness to forgo their annual date with butter sculptures, fancy roosters and Pronto Pups even when the economy turned sour. This year’s attendance surge says that people have more discretionary dollars in their pockets — and, as Minnesotans have been wont to do for 155 years, they chose to spend them at the fair.
At a time when many cultural fads fade before they fully catch on, Minnesotans’ durable devotion to the State Fair’s mix of food, rides, tradition and innovation is worth celebrating. The fair is a shared touchstone for an increasingly diverse population. It allows Minnesotans to see tens of thousands of their fellow citizens in the span of a few hours, and come away seeing themselves a bit more clearly.
Good weather, improved transit connections, new food options and popular Grandstand entertainers buoyed this year’s attendance. The revived state economy undoubtedly played a role. But most of all, the new attendance record attests to Minnesotans’ love affair with their fair. See you there next year.