The reversal of an unpopular idea

I’m not what you would call a regular attendee at the Iowa State Fair. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve spent the day at the fair in the past 15 years. There’s a lot of reasons for that – it’s a busy time of year, the heat of August and the huge crowds.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always enjoyed my trips to the fair. There is so much to see and do, and a lot of those sites don’t cost anything to view. We have enjoyed the free shows, the Bill Riley Talent competitions, seeing the butter cow and horticulture displays, not to mention the exhibits in the Varied Industries Building.

The huge variety of food is also an attraction for many people. It seems you can get about anything on a stick at the Iowa State Fair and all sorts of deep-fried treats that people will likely not see any place else but the fair. But this week, fair officials found out that when you mess with fair food traditions, fairgoers are going to push back.

A plan was announced earlier this week by fair officials to eliminate cash sales at food vendors and instead use tickets to purchase goodies. The plan called for fairgoers to either purchase 50-cent tickets online or at multiple vendors around the fairgrounds. They would then take the tickets to the food vendors and use them to purchase food. The theory was that this would simplify sales and ease the time spent in long lines. Some have suggested that the process could also help guarantee that the fair gets paid its percentage by the vendors.

Regular fair attendees immediately rebelled, citing the fact that they would now have to stand in two lines – one for tickets and one for food. Also on the downside, unused tickets couldn’t be turned in for a refund. They could be saved for use in future years, but no refunds. Who could remember where they stashed a handful of tickets 12 months before? Not me. I have trouble remembering where I put my car keys.

Some fairgoers even said the hassle of the lines and confusion would keep them at home – not the kind of thing fair officials want to hear. There were some very passionate tweets and posts from fair regulars who were clearly unhappy with the change.

So, amid all of the uproar and protestations, the Iowa State Fair has abandoned its cashless food plan. Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds weighed in Thursday saying they were pleased that the fair reversed its decision.

I think it was the right decision, too. I think people like dealing with cash. It’s much easier to know that it costs $4 for for a corn dog than to fumble around with a handful of tickets. If you’ve ever taken a kid to one of those arcades where they collect tickets to win prizes, and have had to carry around a wad of 300 tickets, you’ll know what I mean.

So enjoy that corn dog or fried Snickers next summer at the fair and pay with cash. It’s good to know that the fair officials listened and backed away from a clearly unpopular idea.