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Queen City Fair: A cultural sample of community'

By By Penny Randall / staff writer
Sept. 28, 2003
Len McRae is the owner of Eventz, the organization which puts on the Queen City Fair.
McRae sat down with The Meridian Star's editorial board on Thursday, only a few days before the 3rd Annual Queen City Fair, which opens Monday at 4 p.m.
The fair continues through Oct. 5 at the Lauderdale County Agri-Center on Highway 19 South. For a line-up of fair events, see the Community Calendar on page A8.
The Meridian Star: What's new this year compared to the first two years of the Queen City Fair?
Len McRae: The biggest difference is that the company has expanded, which has enabled us to maintain price levels and not go up.
Besides the Queen City Fair, I also have the Pine Belt County Fair in Hattiesburg, the Coosa River Fair in Gadsden, Ala., and the Golden Triangle Fair in conjunction with the Oktoc Stampede Rodeo.
We've had a lot of increase in expenses. Insurance went up about 30 percent this year, but we've been able to maintain prices because we've expanded and also because of corporate partners.
We try to create a triangle the fair, the customers and corporate partners. At the end, if we do it right, everyone is happy. We have a successful event when the customer feels like they got a good value for their experience and the corporate partners are happy if we get a good turnout and exposure for their business.
We've expanded the size of the midway, the number of rides and a few more kiddie rides.
We've also expanded in terms of community involvement, which is a key element to this thing. For example, the United Way has always been involved and supportive, but this year they've got all 16 agencies involved. We are extremely excited about that.
Other help has come from the Boy Scouts and Beth Randall with the 4-H office. The result overall is a little bigger, a little better, fair.
The Star: You run three other county fairs. How does the Queen City Fair compare?
McRae: At this point, the Meridian fair is the larger of the four. There's growth potential at all of them. In Starkville, specifically, we felt like in order to grow we needed to do something drastic and that's coming in the form of the Oktoc Stampede Rodeo.
Hattiesburg has a very healthy economy and probably the nicest facility in the state and this was our first year in Gadsden.
We're further along in Meridian than at the other fairs one, because we're been doing it here longer and secondly, because we're from here and know people. It's a lot easier when you know the people you're dealing with.
The Star: How do you make sure you have something for all age groups?
McRae: We want the community to come and be entertained. The fair is one of a few things that can appeal to everyone. New this year is the Little Miss Queen City Fair pageant and we've got lots of more local talent performing.
The youth night concert is always successful. We've added a gospel concert and a hip hop concert.
The Star: Last year, the fair covered two weekends. Why did you change the length of the run this year?
McRae: A lot of fairs have two weekends and we wanted to try it. We don't feel like we really need it. It just stretches things. The first year we did Monday through Sunday and realized that's plenty of time for people who want to come.
The Star: Do you feel that the Queen City Fair has grown positively, and do you feel you're headed in the right direction?
McRae: We couldn't feel better about the fair. The response has been great. A lot of people talk about the Banana Derby where the monkeys ride on the ponies' backs. The monkeys are back this year.
Each year we try to change the events up a little. The last two years, we've had the chainsaw carvers and this year we've skipped a year on that.
The layout of the fair has been changed a little bit, because I don't want people to come through there with blinders on. We want it to feel fresh every time you come out.
The Star: What do you hope for the future of this fair?
McRae: Just continuing growth in terms of size, in terms of appeal and in terms of different kinds of events and attractions. We want to continue to add different kinds of things. Eventually, I want to add an antique car show. This thing is a cultural sample of everything in the community.
The Star: What kind of organization and how many volunteers does it take to pull off a seven-day fair?
McRae: It gets easier on one hand because we've done it before, as far as things you need at the facility and advertising. The logistical aspects become easier. A lot of times, the same people are helping us and everyone knows what to do.
When you try to grow, you're involving more people and that becomes more of a challenge in that you have more people to manage.
The coolest part of it is seeing it grow and seeing it get bigger and better, then looking back on it and seeing the success.
We have a tremendous amount of volunteer help. There's a lot of people who are in this because of the fair and not for the recognition.