With one week to until opening day at the State Fair of Texas, vendors are hard at work preparing for the fair’s first in-person event in two years.
Jack Pyland with Jack’s French Frys said his family business has been involved with the fair for 76 years. Pyland was one of the vendors who participated in the fair’s drive-thru event in 2020 amid coronavirus concerns.
“I’m real excited. I’m back to my life. Sitting around twiddling my thumbs waiting for what’s going to happen is getting kind of slow, but I’m back to get back involved,” he said Friday. “I’ll be getting up at 3 in the morning, going to bed at midnight. Things haven’t run for two years. Everything you plug in, touch, oh…it’s broken, fix this, repair for that.”
Like Pyland, Juan Reaves with Smokey John’s BBQ was also part of the drive-thru event last year. While the work preparing for an in-person fair is tough, Reaves said they are eager to be up and running for this year's fair.
“The drive-thru was great for the people who were able to participate, but you’re talking about a small fraction of the people you’ll see at the regular,” Reaves said. “Of course, that means more money, opportunity, more jobs.”
On Friday, Reaves’ electricians were setting up the booths which will be used during the fair. Lighting and electrical work were some of the biggest tasks Friday prior to their inspections on Monday, he said.
“The final week is going to be one of my toughest ever. I’ve got a lot to do. I’m way behind,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to get done in the next seven days before I can feel good about opening up and welcoming our guests.”
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This year, staffing is another challenge before vendors. Reaves said their staff is typically 100-125 people strong during the State Fair. So far, they have hired about 60 people.
“We’ll be hiring as the fair starts. We’ll still probably be hiring some other positions. We are definitely having some contingency plans if we can’t staff at our normal levels, then we’ll have kind of skeleton crews,” he said. “We’re hoping that people will be patient with us, because a lot of people are having the same problem finding people. We think we can still be efficient, still serve great food and still have a fun time.”
Karissa Condoianas, Senior Vice President of Public Relations for the State Fair of Texas, said they are also still looking for extra help.
“We need people from ticket takers to parking lot workers to cashiers out here to work the fair and you know, we have different shifts available,” Condoaianas said. “As of about a week ago, we were about 10% shy of what we wanted to be by opening day, but we felt confident in that we could get there with the measures we’re putting in place.”
Condoaianas said in 2019, there were more than 2.5 million people who visited the fair in its 24 days of operation. Though they do not have exact projections right now, she said she expects attendance to be lower this year due to the pandemic.
“It has definitely been a fluid situation, and it will continue to be. We’re understanding that as the fair starts and continues, things could change and we may have to alter some of our protocols and things. We’re prepared to do that,” she said. “We’ve been planning the State Fair of Texas for almost two years now.”
The State Fair of Texas is estimated to bring an economic impact of more than $400 million to North Texas every year. Guests are asked to bring masks this year, as they are required to be worn while inside buildings.