Non-profits, businesses struggle with drop in NW Montana fair attendance

Non-profits and businesses struggle with a decrease in NW Montana fair attendance
Posted at 10:45 AM, Aug 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-22 12:45:32-04

Vendors at the Northwest Montana Fair in Kalispell are feeling the pressure from a decline in attendance this year.

Arthur Wooley, president of the Flathead Marines, told MTN News that the fair is their second biggest fundraiser and this decrease in food sales affects them.

"Fifty percent less people this year," said Wooley. "As far as (Wednesday) goes. And it's a lot quieter without the carnival and the midway here."

The Flathead Marines sell BBQ chicken and corn on the cob.

Since they have to tighten their budget this year, Wooley explained that they won't be able to give as much back to events in the community like Toys for Tots.

"Last year we donated about $1,500 worth of toys," he said. "And this year, we'd only be able to do about $1,000 worth of toys."

He reassured the community that the Flathead Marines will always find a way to engage and give back to the community.

Fairgrounds manager Mark Campbell said that the fair's opening day numbers were less than they were last year.

"We were down about 40% and had a small turn out," said Campbell.

Owner and operator of D&T BBQ David Wickwire said that this year, his business was cut by a third.

He explained that his business relies heavily on the fair to make enough money to get his food truck through the winter months.

"The fair is where we make our bulk to get through the winter because winters are tough in Montana," sand Wickwire.

D&T BBQ is located at the south end of the grand stand and Wickwire said that in years past the carnival has drawn lots of traffic to his business.

However, this year the fair decided to not move forward with the carnival rides because of coronavirus concerns.

Dr. Doug Nelson, chief medical officer with Kalispell Regional Medical Center, said canceling the carnival was a smart idea.

He added that there is evidence that the virus lives and can spread on hard surfaces.

Campbell explained that the fairgrounds require masks upon entry, but says staff will enforce mask inside the fairgrounds too.

Since opening, Campbell said the fairgrounds staff has had difficulty enforcing mask wearing because of their staffing shortage.

"We found ourselves short staffed (Wednesday)," said Campbell. "We also found ourselves needing more training because this is all brand new to us including our gate people."

Campbell asks anyone needing work, to contact Express Employment Professionals.

The Northwest Montana Fair lasts until Aug. 23.