Cash is Still King at Iowa State Fair

DES MOINES, Iowa — The idea to go cashless at the Iowa State Fair created a lot of backlash when fair organizers announced it earlier this year, but the idea was quickly scrapped.

Now that the fair is here, most fairgoers are glad the plan was never put into place.

There’s an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  That’s a lesson the State Fair Board learned the hard way.

If you want to tick off an Iowan, all you have to do is mess with their State Fair.

Earlier this year, the Fair Board started a firestorm of controversy by suggesting fairgoers should buy tickets to use at concession stands, instead of using cash and credit cards like they do now. That didn’t go over very well.

“The fair’s so crowded as it is and you have to stand in line and dodge people, dodge crowds and if it one line then you have to stand in the next line it’s just another hassle to deal with,” says fairgoer Brianna Schenkelberg.

Another visitor to the fair, Carissa Schmidt, agrees with Schenkelberg, “You know I think we stand in line enough already that it’s nice just to be able to have cash and just stand in line that one time.  And if you have to stand in line to get the tickets. And the other thing is what if you don’t use them all.”

The plan was, you could use them next year, no refunds.

A blast of criticism followed that included threats of boycott and hundreds of negative comments left on the State Fair’s Facebook page. Even the governor weighed in and said it was a bad idea.  In the end, the Fair Board caved to the pressure and scrapped the idea.

Vendors Channel 13 spoke with at the fair say most of their customers don’t want to use the tickets, which the fair does offer for sale. They’d much rather use cash.

“I’ve talked to quite a few and that’s what they prefer.  I mean, because you figure with bigger families it’s hard to keep that many tickets on hand and they’d rather just do it cash. It’s easier to be done, they get their cash and it’s done,” says Ramona Brandt with Ginny’s Grinders.

The fair hasn’t ruled out some other option in the future, but for now these passionate customers will get what they want.

“We’ve got a million plus people coming to the fair, it’s because of those passionate fairgoers that we count on every year to keep coming back. And because of that passion they want to be heard and they’re vocal and we appreciate their passion,” says Lori Chappell with the Iowa State Fair.

You can still buy the food tickets, and a lot of people do. Businesses buy them as employee incentives, and parents buy them when they don’t want to give their children cash.  The only difference is, buying them is a choice — it’s not mandatory. That’s the way fairgoers seem to like it.

4 comments

  • Erik

    The only reason the Fair board tried to do this was so they could control the money and be sure they were getting their large cut of sales.

  • Mike Cee

    I certainly enjoyed seeing the fair board with egg on their faces for this stupid idea. Although I suspect they’ll find a way to quietly sneak in a ticket only payment system in the future. The difference is that they’ll do it behind the scenes rather than risk another outcry that makes the board look like buffoons.

  • Sue

    Theres no question why the vendors do not want credit card transactions at state fair: With cash it will be unreported income, pure tax avoidance. The IRS should audit all the vendors annually.

    • Joe Droppert

      Along with the vendors holding back on a few reported sales. The fair wants to make sure they get all their cut. Hard to do with cash only

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