The future of the Blue Earth County Fair is in the hands of its shareholders -- many more hands than there were a week ago.
People have been buying $5 shares in order to vote Thursday on whether the fair ought to sell its riverside fairgrounds in Garden City, Minn., its home for more than 150 years. The board that runs the fair has argued that because of sagging attendance, it must move closer to Mankato to survive.
On Wednesday alone, more than 100 people bought shares, which are limited to one per person. Sales will continue until right before Thursday's vote at Bethany Lutheran College.
"We should be able to quadruple the shares we've had for the last 155 years," said Matt Little, a board member. Before the vote was set, 87 people held shares.
In recent years, fair attendance fell to about 5,000 -- "one of the lowest-attended fairs in the state," Little said -- despite efforts to lure people with radio ads, go-carts and an attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records. "We've tried everything," he said.
The board believes it's because the fairgrounds are too far from Mankato, about 18 miles away. They've proposed relocating to acreage within 2 miles of the city, raising money by selling naming rights to buildings. There's a feasibility study in process.
"We are such a farm-based community," Little said. It's important that the fair continue working with 4H to show residents that "agriculture is alive and vibrant."
But some shareholders have opposed the county fair moving "from its historic, agricultural home," according to the Free Press in Mankato. Little guessed that it could be a close vote.