“This is no different than farming, it’s the same concept,” said Herb Higgs. “The American farmer puts the seed in the ground and hopes that it sprouts, hope that it gets enough rain, not too much, and that when he harvests he can make a profit.”
Except what Herb Higgs wants to harvest is people – fans, who come to the Panhandle South Plains Fair.
Higgs has been in the fair business for 35 years and even though he said his career path has taken some unexpected turns, it has been a ride he would take again. “There’s nothing I enjoy any better than the fair” Higgs said.
“It’s a passion.”
As general manager for the Panhandle South Plains Fair each fall, Higgs’ job description goes beyond taste-testing fried food and riding carousels. “The fair is a year-round operation; it’s not just the 10 days that people see when we’re actually up and running as the fair,” Higgs said. “My job basically is to coordinate and put it all together, book the talent, whether it’s free acts around the grounds or the Fair Park Coliseum, establish a budget for the fair, report to a board of directors of nine people, and I run their business for them, it’s just an unusual business to run.”
“I’m definitely going to go to the fair,” said Melissa Brisco. “Ride some rides, eat some fried food, and see a show.
The fair opened in 1914 with an initiative to “strengthen community ties within our region and promote growth and prosperity throughout Lubbock and its surrounding communities,” according to the website. “We try to do that which is good for the community,” Higgs said. “We provide a good, safe, family environment for families to have a good time.”
Higgs said the fair is more than just a carnival. The focus on livestock, agriculture, and community growth brings a broader appeal that is beneficial to the entire county. He estimated $750,000 goes back into the community each year the fair is held.
“People always talk traditionally about carnivals … and they say that they take all the money and they leave, well, that’s not exactly true,” Higgs said. “All of the people that travel with the carnival don’t eat carnival food or fair food, they go to the grocery store, they buy groceries, they have their trucks repaired, they spend a lot of money in the community because they’re here doing business.”
Not only does the carnival stimulate the economy, but it sponsors $500,000 in scholarships to local colleges and awards $100,000 annually for agriculture and livestock competitions.
Higgs said the carnival is completely self-sustained with its revenue coming from the 10 days of the fair and subsequent funding from the grounds’ year-round rental operations.
To keep the revenue up, Higgs and his team have to keep attendance up. According to the fair’s site, their attendance is second only to the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, making it the most popular local fair in the state for its market and size. Higgs planned for 175,000 to 195,000 people to attend the fair, but with looming weather, the numbers may not add up, causing his budgeting to come into play. If the rain keeps the fair-goers away, Higgs said he has a backup plan.
“We’ve got a rainy day fund and we’ll dig into our reserves and we’ll put on the fair,” Higgs said, “but being real honest about it, we’ll take a hard look at our expenses for the next cycle and say where can we cut and we’ll have to focus on a lesser number because we’re not going to have the same amount of money, it’s no different than any other business in town.”
For some, it’s not just the rain that is causing them to find alternative activities on fair weekends.
“There’s not a very big appeal for me.” Lubbock resident Brooklyn Witte said. “I don’t have kids to take to the rides and honestly, the concerts and things like that aren’t exactly things that I’m into.”
Higgs said in order to keep a wide audience engaged and excited about their entertainment, he tries to have various different acts throughout the years. “We try to mix it up,” Higgs said. “We try to have a grounds act usually no more than three years in a row and then we change it out to keep it a little bit new, a little bit fresh.”
For Witte, fresh is not always best. “We’re in Lubbock and we like our Texas country music that we can dance to,” Witte said. “I think there is a bigger amount of people that are willing to go see a country band than there are that want to see a rapper. I would like to see the fair reflect the city and the city likes country.”
For others, the appeal of something new and different is enough to take them to the fair rain or shine. “I’m just really glad to have something different to do,” said Brisco. “I’ve lived in Lubbock for three years now and after awhile, you get a little sick of the same old things. I think it’s awesome that the fair is bringing in different genres of acts.”
Higgs has no intentions of getting out of the fair business any time soon. “I feel very humbled to be able to be in this business,” Higgs said. “It’s about learning, it’s about teaching, it’s about keeping traditions and values that are easy to cast aside in the modern world.”
Higgs said despite hard economic times, the future of the fair is bright. “Americans, regardless of whether they’re in west Texas or any other place,” Higgs said, “are looking for a place to take their family and have good family fun and the fair is one of the few places where you can still do that today.”
Contributed to The Hub by Jour 4350 and TexasTechToday.com
–Filming: Corley Peel; Print: Kaitlyn Cennamo; Photos: Sarah Scroggins, The Hub@TTU