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The Comeback of the North Carolina State Fair

Updated: Apr 19

To most North Carolinians, the North Carolina State Fair is a rite of passage and a source of state pride that has been around longer than they or their great-grandparents can remember. Founded in 1853 and hosted annually in Raleigh, the fair and agricultural exposition attracts thousands of visitors each year. In 2022, the fair boasted record-breaking numbers of over 960,000 visitors between October 13th and 23rd––the highest turnout since 2017.

Back in 1853, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services wanted to find a fun way to promote North Carolina’s local farmers and their produce. They also wanted to create an event that would attract people from all across the state and encourage those from different walks of life to meet and interact. The N.C. State Fair has achieved both of those goals and more, resulting in almost 200 years of successful operation.

Today, the fair has come a long way from its humble beginnings. While there is still a display of produce like there was in the very first fair, there are now hundreds of activities and stalls to attract foot traffic. This year hosted five new rides, a folk festival, grandstand shows, games, outdoor music, competitions, countless food stalls, and more.

There is an endless array of activities and eats to explore, no matter how many times you’ve gone before. “I’ve gone in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021,” said Brandon Talton, an Elon University student and North Carolina native. When asked about his favorite attraction at the fair over the years, he said that he will always stop to see the chicken and pig races.

While the N.C. State Fair has hosted millions of visitors since 1853, the coronavirus pandemic almost pushed it out of business. The fair was canceled in 2020 for obvious reasons, and the 2021 fair had a much lower visitor turnout rate. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was fearful of what the turnout in 2022 would look like and whether the pandemic had changed the future of the fair forever.

However, this year’s record-breaking turnout leaves both officials and visitors feeling relieved that the fair is here to stay. With the pandemic and lockdown (hopefully) in the past, the North Carolina State Fair can go back to carrying out its mission of bringing people together.

“Worries over the coronavirus are at an end for North Carolina,” said Talton. “It’s a thing that most places don’t consider anymore, so I think that if the fair goes back to operating the way it did before Covid, then it’ll be all right.”

--Emily Murrill


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