IONIA, Mich. — Ionia Free Fair organizers believe this year’s festival brought in a record number of people.
Final numbers are still being tallied, but according to Raul Alvarez, fair spokesperson, an estimated 400,000 people visited the fairgrounds during the nine-day event, which came to a close on Saturday.
“We’ve seen an increase in not just attendance but people wanting to get out and do things,” said Alvarez. “Ridership is up in the midway; attendance at the concerts is up.”
In prior years, weekly attendance averaged between 300,000 and 350,000 visits.
“That’s a lot of people to entertain and that’s a testament to the fact that people just wanted to get back out,” said Alvarez.
Last summer, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel the 106-year-old tradition. As a result, the fair laid off its entire staff.
Volunteers planned this year’s comeback over an eight-week period once statewide restrictions lifted. Alvarez added a number of community partnerships made it financially feasible.
“We looked at the fair as a transition year, catapulting it into 2022,” said Alvarez. “That catapult is just proving to be a really good one. Everybody is really excited about starting the planning, which starts tomorrow, for 2022.”
Alvarez said board members of the fair will look at how they can continue sponsorships and improve the experience, hinting at possible infrastructure upgrades.
Vendors and fair-goers seemed equally as pleased with this year’s festival.
“It’s like really nice that we can be out here again,” said Jude Gregory, attendee.
“It means family time and fun, and it means more bonding,” said Rebekah Alcala, who visited with her family. “Even though we were stuck inside at times, we get to get out and experience life again.”
Sarah Clark, who runs two food stands with her husband, noted the increase in attendance.
“Saturday hit and with the parade, I think people were really, really pressed to see a parade because it was so packed,” said Clark. “We knew as soon as the parade broke, ‘Okay it’s going to be crazy.’”
Clark hopes it continues at fairs and other entertainment events across the state.
“Last year hurt,” said Clark. “Even going into this year, we were a little concerned; we didn’t know if we were going to be able to fully work or not, so for this to happen it’s just awesome. It’s almost making up for last year.”