Cooler temperatures and a fare-thee-well to summer brought the throngs back to the Minnesota State Fair for its final days, but many vendors remain doubtful they’ll recoup losses suffered during a stretch of oppressive heat that kept the crowds away.
“We lost too many days,” Poncho Dog manager Chuck Johnson said Monday as he stirred a bag of corn dog mix into a pot of steaming water.
Sales at the stand at Nelson Street and Judson Avenue dropped off 30 percent during those sweltering days last week, and Johnson said making it up would be “impossible.”
He’s been a manager at the Poncho Dog for 48 years, and he’ll take a hit to his own wages this year because of lost sales. But Johnson said he hoped another gig at the Oklahoma State Fair and his construction work will ease the blow.
“That’s just the way it goes some years,” he said.
A string of six days of dripping humidity and temperatures above 90 led to some of the slowest State Fair crowds in years. Sunday’s cooler temps brought a record attendance of 236,197, lifting the spirits of many businesses.
Heading into Labor Day, total traffic remained 12 percent lower than the same period a year ago.
“We’ll sell Fresh French Fries no matter what the condition,” said Tyler Villaume, a manager of a sprawling French fry concession, “but sales depend on the amount of people at the fair.”
Sales under the red-and-yellow striped awning were down 10 to 20 percent compared with last year, Villaume said, all because people stayed home. But the dip may not be as costly to the Fresh French Fries operation as some others. The companies that supply the business with ketchup, oil and other necessities of the trade will take back what doesn’t get used, he said.
Drew Levin doesn’t have that luxury at Turkey To Go. He gets his food fresh from members of the Minnesota Turkey Grower’s Association, which owns the building.
By noon Wednesday, in the midst of the heat wave, Levin and business partner, Danny Perkins, decided not to order more turkey drumsticks because, as Levin said, “at 90 degrees, people are not eating heavy foods.”
But then the heat broke. And Turkey To Go ran out of drumsticks on Sunday night.
Levin sent two workers on a 12-hour overnight road trip to Thief River Falls, Minn., to pick up an emergency order. By 9:45 a.m. Monday, the two college-age workers, whom Levin dubbed the “Legends of the Fair,” had returned to save the fair’s final day.
Still, turkey sales were down 10 to 15 percent because of the heat. Fair sales make up about 30 percent of annual sales, but Levin said his company, Turkey Guys, is diversified enough to handle swings. The company caters weddings and bar mitzvahs and has outposts at the Twins ballpark, a food truck, and skyway locations in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.
On Monday, hoodies and long sleeves replaced last week’s trend toward tank tops and a mad dash through the misting station.
The band at Club Caribe was hardly breaking a sweat, and a small crowd was milling around talking to the hot tub salesmen.
“We’re hoping for snow,” said Tom Roering, a wisecracker whose North St. Paul company, Wilcraft, makes ice-fishing vehicles.
Roering, the company founder, had pulled on a hunter’s jacket from his stash of retail merchandise to ward off the chill.
The more temperate weather brought families and anglers to the booth to peer into the newest ice-fishing vehicle on display — an $18,000 machine that can push through thick snow, glide across the ice and float onto open water if necessary.
Crowds were off considerably last week, Roering said, limiting the audience of potential customers. But Roering said interest had picked up in recent days, with a combination of better weather and rising consumer confidence in the economy.
“About 20 percent of what we sell each year is generated at the State Fair,” he said. “We’re feeling pretty solid.”