Smoky haze and the scent of deep-fried cuisine drifted through the fairgrounds early Friday afternoon, signaling the first day of the Spokane County Interstate Fair.
It’s a familiar scene for vendors who travel to fairs across the country, and for locals who come to pet the animals, eat the food and attempt to keep it in their stomachs while being whipped upside down and from side to side on one of the many rides. But asked why they come to the fair year after year, many say the same thing: It provides entertainment for the whole family.
The theme for this year’s fair adds to the family feel, “There’s No Place Like the Fair,” in tribute to the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” movie. Rich Hartzell, director of Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, said visitors will see 35 new commercial vendors this year. There also are new acts, including a “cowboy comedy team,” and a new ride called the Freak Out that swings back and forth while spinning.
“It’s been a big hit wherever they’ve gone with it this year,” Hartzell said.
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo kicked off the main events Friday night and will continue tonight. Country duo Big & Rich will perform Monday night, followed by Creedence Clearwater Revisited on Tuesday. Rock group Seether will play Friday and the Demolition Derby that weekend will cap the big events.
Hartzell said the fair will generate more than $7 million for the county, calling it a “big economic impact for the whole area.”
“We know it’s a good thing for Spokane,” Hartzell said.
For Bill and Sharon Peterson, of Vancouver, British Columbia, the main attraction is the environment itself. They prefer to arrive before the major rides are open and before the big crowds arrive.
“Old people come first,” Bill Peterson said.
They said the variety of food choices is reason enough to spend time at the fair.
Hannah Davenport said she likes trying new things. She had just bought a glazed doughnut cheeseburger – a beef patty topped with grilled onions and pickles in the middle of a soft, glazed doughnut bun.
“Some of the greatest and most bizarre food is provided at the fair,” Hartzell said.
Children are often drawn to the petting zoo. They can ride a group of ponies as if it’s a carousel, or feed goats.
The goats, cows and chickens near the children’s rides came from a ranch in Arkansas, said Sharon Waye, who takes care of the animals. They will travel to over 10 fairs this year. When they drove up from Arkansas, they stopped only for bathroom breaks.
Marie Hahner watched her grandchildren as they spun around on fake motorcycles. Two-year-old Talyn and 3-year-old Cameron had never been to the fair before. Before going on the rides, they met some of the goats and cows. It didn’t take long for them to feel safe at the fair.
“They were scared to come,” Hahner said. “But they love it now.”