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Sustainability a key driver behind date change for Salmon Arm Fair

Annual event rescheduled for 2024 to Aug. 23-25 weekend
The Salmon Arm Community Heritage Commission plaque for the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds shows late September dates for the exhibition in 1900. Organizers the Salmon Arm Fair and the Shuswap Lake Agricultural Association have announced the event, formerly known as the Fall Fair, has been rescheduled to the second-to-last weekend in August. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Keeping the Salmon Arm Fair sustainable was a key factor behind the recently announced rescheduling of the annual event.

Fair manager Jim McEwan said a number of factors went into the decision to move the date of the fair from the second weekend in September to the second-to-last weekend in August 2024 (Aug. 23-25 – the weekend before the Armstrong IPE). A large part of the decision, however, was hinged on revenue versus increasing costs associated with hosting events.

“Our operating costs have gone up by a little over 30 per cent,” said McEwan. “Entertainment is very expensive these days. If you ask anybody running events, entertainment is at least 30 per cent more than what it was pre-COVID.”

Another related challenge is attendance. McEwan explained Saturdays, when the fair is busiest, tend to carry the event.

“Traditionally, Fridays and Sundays are really low – if it wasn’t for Saturday, the fair would lose money every year,” said McEwan. “We’re very strong on Saturday, as anybody who has gone to the fair knows… But Sunday is about a 10th of what Saturday is and Friday is about half the attendance of Saturday. And three quarters of those going on Friday pay the $5 Friday admission. So there’s not a lot of revenue that comes in.

“So what we need to do as an organization is figure out how we are going to be sustainable moving forward.”

Asked if admission might be increased to address rising costs, McEwan said that has been a consideration.

“I guess our feeling is that it’s a community event and people are feeling the pinch, as we all know, and will continue to feel the pinch for the next number of years,” said McEwan. “So ideally, what we’d like to do is maintain the admission rates, but we’ll have to see. We still need to be doing our budgeting for next year.”

Another factor considered in the rescheduling is the 55-Plus BC Games, which take place Sept. 10-14 in Salmon Arm. The fairgrounds will be hosting equine events during the Games. While the Salmon Arm Fair and the Shuswap Lake Agricultural Association look forward to supporting the event, McEwan explained there was some concern with the time available after the fair to prepare for the Games.

“We essentially had one day to turn around from the fair to the equine program,” said McEwan, explaining it could be done if needed, though there are some uncertainties. “We know what would be required to turn it around, but we don’t know how much time that would actually take. Because if we have lots of volunteers, it could easily be done in a day. Too few volunteers, no. Because it takes us a good week to do a proper tear down and clean up of the fair.”

A couple of other factors considered were weather and tourism. McEwan noted how a rainy Saturday, which the fair has experienced, can negatively impact the overall event.

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“A few years back I talked to a few volunteers who said during their first experience volunteering there was a downpour on a Saturday, and it rained and rained and turned the fairgrounds into a moat,” said McEwan. “These days we can’t afford to have a Saturday like that. If we do, we’ve definitely lost money.”

As for tourism, McEwan said it is hoped the date change will enable residents to bring visiting family and friends to the fair.

Though the Games may be a one-off, McEwan said he couldn’t see the Salmon Arm Fair pivoting back to September – despite a slew of criticisms provided in public feedback to news of the date change shared over the weekend on the Fair/Agricultural Association’s Facebook page.

“I find it very optimistic that many people are passionate about the fair,” said McEwan in response. “I take that as a real positive for the community. Because we never really know, year to year, the sense of, are we on the right track, are people enjoying the fair? Are we doing everything that we can to provide the education and entertainment in terms of agriculture?”

One concern raised had to do with items grown locally and entered for exhibits. McEwan said this was discussed during a recent conveners meeting, to get a sense of how the date change will affect exhibits.

“I know that after speaking with some of the organizers of Project Grow, the youth garden program, there’s a lot of kids that said they wish they would have been able to show their produce in August because they had fabulous gardens then, and by the time the fair came around in September, those weren’t as nice looking,” said McEwan. “I think that people adapt to it. I think there will be different gardens. I think if people know what the times are, what the dates are, most of the folks that garden will know what they should be planting for that third week of August.”

McEwan said Salmon Arm Fair organizers see as many opportunities they do challenges in changing fair dates to the end of August. But again, sustainability is a key consideration. And that means it needs to bring in revenue.

“Obviously money isn’t’ everything, but money definitely keeps us afloat and keeps us prepared for next year – as anybody running an event would attest,” said McEwan. “You need revenue. There’s only so many limited sources of grant money out there, and especially for agriculture fairs.”

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