Leavenworth County Fair week big help for local business, some say
Early Monday afternoon, Makayla Leslie walked out of Casey’s in Tonganoxie with two large pizzas to join her mother, Leana, and brother, Justyn, in a pickup, hauling goats to the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds less than three blocks to the west.
For Casey’s store manager Paulet Courtney, a 27-year veteran at the store, it was a sign one of the store’s busiest weeks was getting under way.
“It means more business, more sales,” she said of fair week. “It makes the week go faster and more interesting because of all the different people you see.
“I like fair week.”
She ordered more and different items for the store’s shelves in anticipation of fair crowds and would schedule more employee hours, Courtney said. And while 4-H families like the Leslies made Monday a bit busier, it would really start to get hectic at the conclusion of the parade Tuesday, which passes right by the store, she predicted.
Leana Leslie said Monday’s pizza purchase was just one of many the rural Tonganoxie family would make during the fair’s run. There would be more trips to Subway and Casey’s for food and drinks, runs to stores for other last-minute items, stops at feed stores for grain for animals and probably a few stops to fill gas tanks.
“We’ll have three vehicles going back and forth,” Leana said.
David Todd, Leavenworth County Fair Board president, said the fair board used a formula based on paid parking to estimate attendance at the fair. It is estimated 18,000 to 22,000 people attend the fair during its five-day run, he said.
“Three years ago, we set a record with around 28,000,” he said.
Although the fair’s attendance includes many from Tonganoxie, it is obvious from the numbers it does draw many out-of-town visitors, Todd said.
And it’s obvious to those working in businesses along U.S. Highway 24-40 that the visitors are spending. Suzanne Brown, who has worked at G&P Country Market convenience store for seven years, said visitors made fair week one of the store’s busiest.
“It’s going to be really busy, and we’re going to need lots of ice,” she said.
While it would be busy, Brown was reluctant to crown fair week as the busiest at the store. Business was also very good during the Shrine Rodeo in late May, she said.
If the fairgrounds are the city’s economic epicenter during fair week, it benefits the city year around. Todd said buildings are rented for wedding receptions, family reunions and other gatherings 12 months a year in addition to such events as the Shrine Rodeo in May and livestock shows throughout the summer.
But there’s no solid figure of just what all that activity means in terms of revenue for the city. Tonganoxie City Administrator Mike Yanez said there was no study of the fair or fairgrounds’ benefit to the city, but that they obviously pumped sales and fuel tax revenue into city coffers.
“You put 20,000 people milling about, eating, buying gas, there’s no doubt it benefits the city,” he said. “There’s a saying in economic development that every retail dollar turns over six times. It just spreads itself out in terms of benefits.”
Ideally, sales taxes collected during the August fair should be in the city’s September distribution from the state. However, retailers don’t always get their payments to the state in time for the next month’s distribution. September has never been the city’s top sales tax distribution month but has been in the top three or four months the last three years.
The fair itself generates sales tax because not all of its vendors are non-profit organization. The biggest, and the biggest moneymaker for the fair board, is the carnival, Todd said. And he said the fair had to pay sales taxes on tickets sold to the demolition derby and mud run.
One of the fair’s commercial booths is that of the Kansas Country Store of Leavenworth and the recently opened Kansas Country South in Tonganoxie. The booth offers everything from feeds for livestock to boots for youngsters.
Don Brown, who owns the two stores with his wife, Sherry, said they have had a booth at the fair since opening the Leavenworth store a decade ago. The booth helps support the county’s young people in agriculture, but it has also helped the Browns build their business, he said.
“It allows us to meet new people and form relationships with potential customers,” he said. “The relationships we build with people through the fair are many times long lasting and hopefully beneficial for our customers, too.”
The booth and walk-in business from the fair crowd should be a boost for the Tonganoxie store, which opened about a month ago, Brown said.
“It will help the new store immensely, because we’re so new people don’t realize we’re there yet.”
Not all Tonganoxie businesses were anticipating a big week. Gene Samuels, owner of Fat Sam’s on U.S. Highway 24-40 just three blocks west of the fairgrounds, said he had a good Friday during last year’s fair but the rest of the fair’s run business was down.
“There’s so many food stands there,” he said, “when people go to the fair they want to do the whole thing.”