Minnesota State Fair vendors see decline in profits as attendance remains below average

The Minnesota State Fair drew its largest crowd of the 2021 festival on Saturday with 153,953 visitors passing through gates during the day, but that number is still well below average. Meanwhile, vendors are beginning to take stock of how well they did during this challenging season.

Since 1991, the second Saturday of the Minnesota State Fair has drawn an average of 213,957 people per year – about 60,000 higher than the fair saw this weekend. Overall, the fair is on track to have its worst total attendance since the 1960s. So far, the fair has tallied 1,024,584 visitors since the start of the festival through Saturday.

For many, these numbers aren’t looking great, and it’s made for a tricky business of trying to cover expenses.

"I haven’t had to worry about making payroll in 25 years, this year I’m concerned," Dan Runyon at Juanita’s Fajitas told FOX 9 on Sunday.

Juanita’s Fajitas began pleasing customers back in 1991… but in 2021 unpredictability at the fair has thrown Runyon’s recipe for success off.

"Because we have a shortage of labor, it cost us more trying to get people in, so my payroll is going up," Runyon explained.

While his payroll has gone up, attendance numbers have gone way down from recent memory.

"I don’t know what it is, combination of weather, economy, perspective on COVID… I don’t know what the reason is," Runyon said.

Runyon said his profits are down as much as 60% through the first weekend.

"It’s roughly been about 50 to 60% less than what we probably typically done in a typical fair," Krysta Person at Luigi Fries added.

Person says fewer customers also means more leftover food on their hands, and now some vendors plan to donate that food to those in need.

"We donate it or we kind of share with family and friends after the fair," Person said.

"Maybe I have a relative in the restaurant business that can run a special or something like that, but mainly it’ll go to a food shelf for those that are helping the less fortunate," Runyon said. "First people we call is Little Sisters Of The Poor and then Dorothy Day, because those are the people who really need it the most."

Despite the disappointing year, after a year without the fair, most are just glad to be back.

"We’re still happy to be here. We will always be here, always enthusiastic, but sometimes it doesn’t live up to personal expectations," Runyon said. "Crocodile tears… because it’s still the greatest show in the United States, if not the world."

On a positive note, some vendors inside of buildings on the fairgrounds reported better earnings, because rainy days pushed more fairgoers to shelter indoors near their booths.