FAIR AT SANTA ANITA PARK – JULY 29 – AUGUST 22
By MIKE LUCAS
Arcadia Chamber of Commerce
ARCADIA – Proving again that nature and free enterprise abhor a vacuum, Southland families will flock here by the thousands in coming weeks for the Fair at Santa Anita Park – a new event that its investors hope will encore for years to come.
Set for 16 dates from July 29 to Aug. 22, it will recapture long-missing experiences: a sprawling carnival midway, a wide array of authentic fair cuisine, stages for musical acts, motorcycle stunt shows and performing dogs; and, as with a certain big fair in Pomona, satellite wagering on horse racing too.
Southern Californians are truly fair-starved, said Renee Hernandez, director of communications at Pomona’s Los Angeles County Fair, which closed 22 months ago and has yet to reopen.
“People tell me all the time how much they miss us,” Hernandez said. “They have all these sweet, heartwarming stories; they got married here 50 years ago, they came here as kids. We’re so much a part of the traditions of their lives.”
The pandemic forced cancellation in 2020 of the Pomona fair and, earlier this year, the 2021 fair too. L.A. County Fair officials then decided to start all over next year by scrapping the traditional autumn dates for a new spring fair to re-open on May 5.
California Department of Food and Agriculture spokesman Jay Van Rein said a total of 10 county and district fairs have been canceled statewide, with many of the other 66 downsized for smaller crowds. The gargantuan State Fair at Cal Expo has been delayed, but officials there may soon decide to hold a smaller event later this year, Van Rein said.
All this left a vacuum that principals of Santa Monica-based State Fair Entertainment LLC couldn’t resist, said Brett Enright, head of food and beverage with Florida-based Juicys LLC, a nationwide vendor for the traditional celebrations of rural Americana.
“People need their fairs, their day in the sun,” Enright said.
Juicys, other fair vendors and more than 1,000 workers were ready to go and Santa Anita was ready with its vast parking lots – offered in various sizes and configurations at rates from $2,500 to $25,000 per day.
Santa Anita’s special events manager, Pete Siberell, said the group rolled out their plans about three months ago and the project jelled rapidly. Tim Schwehr, Arcadia’s economic development analyst, said city officials issued a permit on June 15 – the day Sacramento lifted statewide restrictions.
“This has been a fast-moving event in terms of planning and we’re very excited to launch this weekend,” Ron Severance, State Fair Entertainment CEO, said. Beyond the State Fair Entertainment partners: Juicy’s and Helm & Sons Amusements, the team at Santa Anita Park has gone out of their way to accommodate us and make us feel welcome.”
Siberell said Santa Anita was impressed with the work the group had done earlier this year when it staged a county fair food-themed drive-through event in Pasadena. “The Rose Bowl gave them good references,” he said.
Although head counts are notoriously difficult to project for brand-new events, Park and fair officials anticipate daily attendance of 15,000 to 25,000.
“We expect two waves every day, with families earlier, then young people later on for the carnival and music acts,” Siberell said.
Santa Anita’s satellite wagering draws another 2,000 to 4,000 horse fans every day. Siberell said some of those will no doubt wander over from the grandstands to see what’s going on – at the least to take in the beer garden — complete with live music.
Fair PR director Marcee Rondan said social media returns indicate strong interest in the new event.
“The location is great. It’s central to Southern California, it’s handy to the freeway and it saves a half-hour drive to Pomona — an hour from L.A.,” she said. “People are ready for something to do. Everybody’s been so cooped up.”
Investors hope it’s a show with legs. Indeed, Siberell said State Fair Entertainment and Santa Anita struck a mutual option deal to extend the event into the future that can be executed after the inaugural run.
“This will be back and get bigger and bigger,” said Enright, the food and beverage director.
Reminded that some county fair regulars grew up around agricultural areas and enjoy visiting their four-legged friends, Enright allowed that anything is possible in years ahead.
He waved an arm at the Budweiser Clydesdales quartered in the paddock stalls.
“We can have more animals,” Enright said. “We can do anything. We’re now the official summer fair of Southern California. People want to have fun. It’s time to have some fun!”
Mike Lucas is a retired journalist who has been County Editor at the San Marino Tribune, a copy editor and staff writer at the Los Angeles Times and City Editor at the Las Vegas Sun.