DU QUOIN — Turnout for last month’s eclipse may not have been exactly what some expected in the region, but Du Quoin business owners said having the eclipse come so closely to the Du Quoin State Fair certainly will help numbers for August.
Stacey Arnett said she has seen the last 15 or so state fairs from behind the counter at the Du Quoin Farm Fresh Dairy store. She said yearly the fair gives the store a good bump — and that this year was no different.
“Any time there is campers out there, you do see an increase,” she said.
Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi said this is not uncommon. He said for people in the grocery or restaurant business, the fair can be a great boost. He said in the past, Du Quoin has seen about a 15 percent sales tax revenue bump during the fair — he added that this number is hard to get exact, though, because the fair usually falls between two months.
However, he said the fair does not flood the town with visitors. He said many businesses have gotten used to the yearly event are under the “standard operating procedure” for fair season.
Abby Ancell, general manager of St. Nicholas Brewery just off of Main Street, said their numbers have been a bit skewed around the fair. She said their grand opening three years ago brought in big business and coincided with the state fair. She said looking at the next year, sales took a drop. However, this year, with both the eclipse and the state fair running almost on top of each other, she said the numbers look to have crept back up.
Ancell said the weekend leading up to the eclipse was good for the restaurant, but she said the four hours they opened the day of the eclipse were great.
“Literally every single person that came through the door Monday was from out of town,” Ancell said.
Ancell said the locals — who largely, she said, seemed to stay out of the mix during the event — came out in the days between the eclipse and the fair.
Arnett saw this, too. She said people came in to get stocked up on groceries. She said it seemed like many in the region were concerned with travel around the eclipse and wanted to be prepared.
Alongi said the eclipse had little effect on Du Quoin as a whole.
“The eclipse didn’t have any type of impact, or very little impact, on the City of Du Quoin except for traffic patterns,” he said. This was disappointing to Alongi, who said the fairgrounds would have been an ideal place to watch the eclipse, but that event organizers failed to capitalize on it.
To this end, Alongi said the fair has also taken a bit of a dip. He said in past years, more has gone into bringing people into the fairgrounds, but he said there has been less equity between the Du Quoin and Springfield events. He said he had praise for the organizers who pulled the event off despite uncertainty caused by the recently ended budget impasse.
However, Alongi thinks the state needs to promote the fair more and bring bigger acts for the mainstage events. He said people do not want to see the “disparity” between the Springfield and Du Quoin entertainment budgets.
Alongi also questioned the scheduling of some events. He said moving the harness races from the weekend to a weeknight event hurt attendance — he said crowds were at least one third of what they normally are.
“I would hope that they would rethink that for next year,” he said.
As for traffic, Alongi said the event draws mostly regional people who don’t make too many stops to businesses. However, he said people in town working the fair do shop and eat out some, accounting for some of the spike in sales taxes.
Even still, Ancell said it has been a good week for her. In fact, she said she was told more than once that stopping at the brewery was a highlight of the fair.
“I have heard from several tables that the best part of going to the fair is they get to come to St. Nick’s,” Ancell said.
She said there has been more traffic during the week because of the nightly events at the fairgrounds and certain political events have filled the restaurant more than once. The night of the Nelly concert was a banner night, she said.
A Du Quoin native, Ancell said she is thankful for the good business this week but added that the fair can be hit and miss.
“You just never know,” she said of how the event will affect the town.