The Salem Fair that began in 1988 is celebrating its 25th year this July.
Without the benefit of years of carnival or fair experience, Carey Harveycutter and John Saunders with the Salem Civic Center headed to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions conference in Las Vegas in 1987 years ago.
The two hoped to start a Salem fair or carnival with free parking and free gate admission. Lakeside Amusement Park had recently closed (in 1986) because of competition from larger amusement parks and from 1985’s heavy flood damage.
Experienced “carnies” and fair managers told the two: “You’re nice young fellows, but we’re not gonna see you guys again,” Harveycutter recalled. Despite the fair managers’ responses, they still asked for advice. “We [didn’t] have the luxury of starting out shoveling manure with the mules at the barns and then working up to stage manager – we’ve got to start at the top.”
A photo of Harveycutter and Saunders circa 1989, the Salem Fair’s second year, hangs in Harveycutter’s office at the civic center. They both had different hair, were 24 years younger, and sported shirts and ties. Wearing matching powder blue polo shirts and sitting in Harveycutter’s office, the two recalled the major differences between the Salem Fair-then and the Salem Fair-now:
-No fence: “We didn’t have a full fence for about nine years,” Carey said. “If we’d have fenced it, we’d have charged a fee to get in, and we wouldn’t be a free fair.”
-Weather insurance since year three: If it rains four out of six hours during the fair (equaling or exceeding 1/100th of an inch), the SCC is insured against it. After substantial storms wrecked some days in years one and two, they learned from it.
-Parking: “We know you can’t get here,” Saunders said. They began hiring parking attendants after year four or five, they said, after Saunders and Harveycutter both parked a field full of cars on a Saturday night. Shuttle buses began after the third or fourth year, according to Harveycutter.
-Livestock: The first three years, the Salem Fair featured beef and dairy cattle, market lambs, sheep, and goats, under tents.
-Security levels: The fair started with five or six police officers, but the fair now has so many folks visit they have uniformed, undercover, bike patrols, and officers on lifeguard stands, plus the Virginia State Police have canine officers back up security at the gate on heavy nights. At the beginning, they spent $5,000 to $9,000 on Salem Police. Now, they spend an estimated $65,000 to $70,000 on security.
-The fair has less full-time staff, but more staff overall.
-“This will be the first year that Jack Rice is not one of our announcers. The only job he had for 24 years,” Harveycutter said.
-Signage on Interstate 81: The Salem Fair will have VDOT-approved signage (after Harveycutter and Saunders saw it in Caroline County) directing traffic to get off I-81 at the North Electric Road exit. Additionally, the Salem Civic Center has much more signage than it did 25 years ago.
-Kroger sampling area: started 8 to 10 years ago. Kroger now features new products in the AC of the arena.
-Advance ride tickets: started four years ago. This year, you can buy them in advance (at Kroger and several other locations) for any night except Saturday. In the past there were some restrictions.
-Baseball: the minor leaguers now run games concurrent with the Salem Fair, thanks to a change in the scheduling rules.
-Facebook, Twitter, and common use of the internet: Didn’t exist until recently. For updates and info. on the Salem Fair, visit their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter @SalemFair, or visit www.salemfair.com