Fair saloon draws heat from public
After the fair board approved the sale of hard liquor at the 2019 fair in an 8-5 vote during May’s board meeting, members from the community offered their own opinion with a petition against the move.
“Somebody came to me and talked about not having alcohol served at the fair and wondered if we could do something and get signatures from people who were against it,” Lloyd Kaplan, who helped spearhead the petition, explained.
The petition is a reaction to what the fair is calling the saloon, a new location which will offer liquor to fairgoers separate from the Beer Garden. “There’s enough alcohol there with the Beer Garden and the people who bring their own,” Kaplan opined.
“We are well aware that people bring hard alcohol or mixed drinks in a mug,” Fair Board President Dan Deml said. “This tent and its double fence will be manned at all times by a uniformed official, so I think the security will be very good.” It will also likely cut back on those drinking hard alcohol incognito.
Another issue of contention for those who signed the petition was the location of the tent. “The first location was right by the 4-H food stand and the new location is in the new racetrack area,” Kaplan said. “I still think it’s too close to where the 4-H kids are and the petting booth.”
“We don’t have to show those young kids that the fair is about drinking alcohol,” Kaplan added. “They don’t need to do that at the fair when there are off-site locations to drink such as the Bowling Alley, or a bar.”
The tent will be positioned on the newly cleared space north of the racetrack and will be a spot for those looking for a less noisy atmosphere than the Beer Garden to grab a drink.
Deml said that the location is not necessarily an issue that folks need to be worried about. “The Beer Garden sits right next to the food court and the Midway, and the location for the tent will be removed by quite a distance from young adults and entertainment,” he said. “The idea that this is in the middle of some place where it shouldn’t be is something I completely disagree with.”
The petition was signed by a wide variety of people throughout the county, including business people, farmers, educators, ministers, and State Representative John Petersburg. “The people are talking and the board has to listen,” Kaplan said.
“The Steele County Fair is such a great family event, and I don’t think we should do anything that could potentially impact that,” Rep. Petersburg said. “Drinking a beer to cool down is much different than drinking hard liquor. Hard liquor is easier to over indulge and to get intoxicated as well. For me the potential downsides and dangers far outweigh any benefits.”
A cover letter, which was included with the petition, reads: “We feel the decision to introduce the sale of hard liquor to be very detrimental to the quality of the fair.” It also says that the addition of such sale would, “likely pose a significantly negative impact on community minded goals that the fair board hopes to achieve each and every year.”
To counter the argument, Deml cited the fact that other county fairs have long served alcohol with no negative impact, including Waseca, Freeborn, Mower, Dodge, and Olmsted. “They all have hard liquor and it’s been very successful,” he said.
Kaplan explained that he is a longtime attendant of the fair and just wants his concern to be voiced. “I’ve been going to the fair since I was a little boy, I was a superintendent in the past,” he said. “The fair has always been a great time for families and kids to come together, and I think the board has done a good job with that.”
“We’re just letting the board know what the people of the county think,” Kaplan said. He also explained that he has submitted the petition to the county board. “As of Wednesday of this week, every one of the commissioners received it.”
While some may have thought that this is a new notion, Deml explained that the board has been looking to add an additional site to serve alcohol for some time, pending available space. “The proposal was made in January, and we discussed it at length at the state convention and talked with law enforcement and other fair boards,” he said.
“We have discussed it a number of times and so I think we really did our due diligence, and once it was passed, the wheels were put in motion and things moved forward,” he said. “It’s a trial and we’ll see what happens. If anyone is concerned or has questions, I strongly urge people to call Doug Meier or myself.”
Meier will be in charge of the tent, dubbed the saloon, and Deml and the board feel that he has the experience to be able to handle something like this. “Doug is experienced for this, and we’ve contacted professional bartenders,” Deml said. “You’ve got to give it a fair shake and a fair chance.”
Deml also mentioned that he has heard from those on the opposite side of the fence, who were wanting something like this at the fair for a long time. “Nobody has to go in it, but the people who do enjoy it have the right to,” he said. “You have to consider both audiences.”
Still, Kaplan and the other signatories feel that the addition of hard alcohol is a mistake. “There’s enough going on with entertainment, and food, and they have the Beer Garden if you want to have a beer,” Kaplan said. He urged those with a similar opinion to voice their concerns as well.
“We’ve had the Beer Garden for 60 years that we’ve run successfully and conscientiously and there’s no reason for people to think that it won’t be the same for this,” Deml said. The plan for now is to test out the new tent for both the 2019 fair and the 2020 fair, pending any negative side effects.