The South Carolina State Fair brought back its drive-through fair event last week at the State Fairgrounds after last October's event brought in 20,500 cars, according to Nancy Smith, general manager of the South Carolina State Fair.
The drive-through fair food event began on April 6 and was open each day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. until April 11. Over 15,000 cars visited the fair.
Attendees, who stayed in their cars for the entirety of the event, were able to order food from one of six lines, all of which featured the same menu items: a variety of popular fair delicacies such as fried Oreos, corn dogs and roasted corn.
“I think it’s fantastic. It’s a great opportunity to still get out and enjoy the fair festivities of food,” Julian Milligan, who bought an ear of roasted corn, said. “Can’t wait to bite into this."
Guests were also a fan of the efficiency and menu options.
“It’s fast, and I’m a turkey leg man. I love the turkey legs,” attendee Cleveland Tucker said.
Guests were encouraged, but not required, to wear masks when interacting with food vendors. Director of Safety Matt LaSchuma said in an email “trying to make this mandatory for people in their own personal vehicle is quite the task.”
“We’ve had some pretty strict protocols. CDC — we’re following all of the CDC guidelines along with DHEC guidelines and honestly we feel pretty safe. Generally, people are happy to comply with all of the rules,” Frances Daley, an employee working at the family-owned corn-dog stand, Daley’s Concessions, said.
The six-day event is “another brainchild of COVID-19” according to Smith.
“We wanted to give back to the community and, of course, we knew that people wanted access to their fair food,” Smith said.
Last year’s annual South Carolina State Fair, which is held in mid-October, was converted into a socially-distanced drive-through because of the pandemic, as well.
The only time in the fair’s history that the annual event has been canceled was during the influenza epidemic in 1918, according to Smith.
Nancy Smith said her team was determined not to cancel the event in October.
“The fair kinda encapsulates everyone and everything that South Carolina is all about, and the food certainly is a big part of the fair. There’s roots in agriculture and just in the big important part of the fair showcasing all the talents of the folks throughout the state of South Carolina,” Smith said.
The drive-through fair in October, a six-day event, featured different drive-through exhibits. The event in the spring only offered fair food.
The April drive-through is the first time the State Fair has offered anything like it in the spring.
“Because the food was so popular last year, and folks really seemed to like that, we thought ‘How would it be to try some fair food in April?’” Smith said.
The event is just one example of the State Fair’s various projects that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the recreation industry.
“We’ve had drive-in movie nights on the fairgrounds. We started with our Carolina Lights, our drive-through Christmas light show," Smith said.
The fair industry was hit hard by the pandemic. Vendors who have been in the industry for their entire lives felt the impact.
“It was real devastating at first, of course. This is our life, this is how we make our money,” Stacey Williams, who grew up working in the fair industry with her family, said.
The drive-through events have been helpful for struggling food vendors who are hopeful things will continue to improve as more fair events across the country return to the schedule.
“COVID has been absolutely devastating. We’ve lost all of our festivals and fairs, and we’ve been really lucky. So we’ve made it through, but this event has been incredible for us,” Daley said.
The South Carolina State Fair team is looking to transition back to an in-person fair in October, and the spring event may remain on the schedule.
“Fair food is something that we’ve always said that folks can't get it but just those 12 days in October,” Smith said. “If this is successful, you will be seeing it again.”