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Fair vendors sell variety of wares in uneven year

Published September 13, 2013 12:47 pm

Business • Weather and struggling economy cited by some as factors for lackluster sales.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Walking the aisles of the Utah State Fair buildings where vendors ply their wares, one finds a strange potpourri.

Within sight of a ladder display, for instance, is a place for chiropractic adjustments. Living scriptures are offered next to a booth selling wigs.

Missing is the strategic product placement of a department store or a mall.

What you get, instead, are pots and pans and wiggle cars.

Salsa and super knives.

Emergency stoves and magnetic jewelry.

Splat balls, hearing aids and fudge. And spices, of course.

Tossed together, it's like a special salad made to capture the whims of every kind of fairgrounds consumer.

Need to lose weight? Here's a potion.

Fermenting alcohol or root beer? Check it out: empty barrels!

Is the afterlife on your mind? How about a funeral plan.

But a combination of rainy weather, a struggling economy and competition from major area events — such as last weekend's Comic Con and the Greek Festival — has left the eclectic market struggling to find customers, many vendors said Thursday.

Some said business was off as much as 70 percent.

Paulette Barker, who sells stoves and grills, said her business was down about 35 percent. She has worked the Box Elder and Davis county Fairs and said things were slow at both of those as well.

"People just don't have the money," she said. "I've seen it when things were fast. I ran out of grills two years ago on the fifth day of the fair. I have product, but people do not have money."

Ted Kasper, of Idaho, who was selling magnetic jewelry, echoed those sentiments.

"There is no business," he said. "We are down quite a bit. I've been here 12 years and we are hoping a gang-buster weekend will help us come up to last year."

Not everyone had such a tough go of it though.

Ladder salesman Peton Nielsen, of Mapleton, said the fair was better than ever and that business was better than last year.

Lois Slagowski, of Farmington, who said University of Utah rings were selling better than BYU rings at her booth, said business had been pretty good.

"The first day was terrible and then it picked up," said Manda Hightower, who sold a naturopathic product called a bionic band, which she said gives you more strength, balance and endurance. "The weekend was slower than last year by half. The weather was bad. People come in here but they don't buy anything."

Curt DeArmond, who sells empty barrels that can be used to age spirits, root beer and vinegar, said he had few complaints, though things could always be better.

Paul Patterson, of California, who rented booths selling salsa makers, microwave steamers, steam mops and garlic graters among other things, had faith that the fair wouldn't lose its charm as a money-maker. He attended his first fair as a vendor with his father when he was five. He has been working booths — such as the ones at the Utah State Fair —throughout the country since he was 16.

"This is a nicely run fair and they've done tons of improvement," he said. "I've been coming to this fair 33 years and have spent 44 years in the industry."

The Utah State Fair continues through Sunday, opening daily at 10 a.m.

wharton@sltrib.com