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SC State Fair opens in Columbia

The 2010 State Fair is underway in Columbia

AUDIO: Matt Long reports from the SC State Fair (1:00)

As the South Carolina State Fair opened its gates  in Columbia Wednesday, Nancy Smith saw something she liked.

Good weather… We haven’t had good weather in a couple of years.
As the fair’s assistant manager, Smith is hoping for more days like Wednesday–warm and sunny. After all, good weather means good crowds. And with 12 days to “make it or break it,” the weather is critical.

Nancy Smith, assistant manager of SC State Fair

Smith said Wednesday also had another draw, and one organizers could control: $1 admission.

We were trying to offer our patrons a little something extra to get them to come out. We thought a good deal would be the thing to do it, and it looks like this year it’s worked.

Within two hours of its opening, the fairgrounds were packed with thousands of visitors. Not bad for a weekday, and in the middle of the afternoon, at that.
The SC State Fair is in its 141st year, but has come a long way from its day as an agriculture showcase event.  Visitors are more likely nowadays to associate the fair with rides, games, and food.

Ah, yes, the food. If you want something deep fried, chances are good that you’ll find it at the State Fair. One of the more unusual foods for hungry fairgoers to sample is a donut burger at Carrousel Barbeque. Carrousel manager Cheryl Reas says a donut burger is exactly what it sounds like:

We fire the burger on the grill, put cheese and bacon on it, and then we heat the Krispy Kreme donuts… You can get lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion on it. It is just an awesome burger. It’s a burger between two Krispy Kreme donuts!

Cheryl Reas prepares a donut burger for a customer

AUDIO: Reas talks about “donut burger”

And, over at Jeremy Horme’s stand, you can find all sorts of fried food–including fried butter, fried Oreo cookies, and fried Twinkies. The Fort Myers, Florida native explained what spawned the business.

My brother and I were roommates and we just started messing around one night with cookie dough. We started deep frying cookie dough… We just mess around with new ideas and try different things and see what works and see what doesn’t.

AUDIO: Horme explains why deep fried is popular (1:46)

And when visitors aren’t eyeing the food with uneasy suspicion, they’re also watching some of the unique sideshows. Pig races, contests, and even the occasional one man band are always popular draws.

While the fair’s roots are still agricultural, the demographics have changed among those who are showing off their prize plants and animals.

Clint Attaway is the small stock superviser at the fairgrounds. He says entries are from all over South Carolina, both suburban and rural. He said he also saw a record number of children enter small stock animals this year.

"Doggies of the Wild Wild West" is one of several sideshows that turn visitors' heads

But the number of contestants has declined in recent years. Attaway says he believes the bad economy is having an effect:

It seems to be less and less people doing it, for whatever reason… A lot of people have had to get rid of them because of the cost of feeding, and things like that.

Smith said some of the agriculture contests have seen more entries, however. She said a good harvest year for crops helps, but, the presense of animals and produce is important for the entire state fair experience.

We always try to keep all of that going for the kids to see…We always have to have the sow with the piglets. If we don’t have those types of things, our patrons ask for them – which is a good thing.

Visitors can get into the fair for $10, with $2 admission for children aged 2-5. Visitors can also buy all-day ride passes for $25 during the week.

The SC State Fair runs through Sunday October 24.

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