Fairground manager says 'It's not our fair, it's a New Hampshire fair' amidst debt crisis
ROCHESTER — A tradition that has lasted 141 years is in jeopardy with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, as attendance continues to dwindle.
The Rochester Fair Grounds stands at almost $800,000 in debt, starting with their $400,000 mortgage.
Fifty-eight-year-old Mark Perry has worked for The Rochester Fair Grounds since he was 8-years-old, and has been the general manager since 2001. To Perry, the Rochester Fair Grounds is more of passion for him than a job.
In order to cover enough debt to open for the second week of September, the fair needs at least $80,000, which would go towards a variety of private loans, according to Perry.
Despite being a non-profit, the manager explained that they are a 501C5, an agricultural society, so they are still responsible for paying for all taxes, all police and fire officials present and all the same things a homeowner would.
So Perry, the only full-time salary employee on the grounds, has offered to opt out of his $30,000 pay. With this, he has asked his employees to follow him.
"Every staff member I have talked to said 'I'm on board with this' or 'we'll follow you into it,'" Perry explained. "We're stewards of a 141-year non-profit. We don't own it or deviate it, we take care of what is handed to us, and that's all that matters."
Most of the employees of the fairgrounds work for up to a few weeks in the year, some work for a $50 stipend, others work for a few thousand dollars throughout the year, according to Perry. Again, the only year-round employee is Perry himself.
Even if all of the employees sacrifice their pay, which could add up to about $95,000, it still won't be enough to make up for the massive hole they need to fill and is also not a procedure they could carry out in the years to come.
Perry says another important thing to understand is that this isn't a new problem. The fairgrounds mortgage is so high that it would be a challenge for any fairground to operate under, Perry said.
"What created the significant trauma is the last two fairs," Perry explained. "We had significant losses."
At the beginning of their troubles, the fair attempted to use a fixed rate for their 10-day fair, which proved to work — but only at first.
The problem with a fixed rate is that it only covers about two-thirds of the actual price so, in doing so, the fair also had to increase attendance significantly, according to Perry.
At first, improved attendance worked, but the fair was still forced to continue to up the price of the flat rate ticket.
By 2016, the ticket was about $15, which caused a lot of fair-goers to opt out of the fair all together, showing almost a 7,000 person decrease in attendance from the year before.
This year, the fair hopes to go back to a traditional gate fair rate, which would only cover admittance to the fair and not the rides, entertainment, food, etc.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands the fair owes in debt, a great deal of the buildings and infrastructure around the site need work.
The idea of a GoFundMe has certainly circulated around the grounds this past week, but no plan to go further has been put into place yet.
"It's not our fair, it's a New Hampshire fair," Perry said. "it belongs to everyone and you can never loose sight of that. It's a community and a part of our heritage here in Rochester."