A new and improved South Florida fair
Updated: Jan 24
At the conclusion of the annual South Florida Fair, many were left wondering how the large, crowded event handled the COVID-19 pandemic and other safety concerns.
“I did feel safe for the most part. I went with a group of people, but it’s definitely not somewhere I would go alone,” Kylie Lazarus, a Palm Beach Atlantic University alumnus, said.
The fair, which lasted for 17 days this year, revealed their secrets to safety a few days before it ended.
Last year in January, the fair was held as a “mini fair” that only had outdoor activities, rides for children and less food vendors. Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced the fair to scale back during its 2021 tenure, it was fully operational this year.
The fair applied safety precautions such as the use of hand sanitizer, sanitation areas and requiring its staff to wear facial coverings. Vicki Chouris, CEO and president of the South Florida Fair and Palm Beach County Expositions, said she thought the fair was a success in regards to the COVID-19 situation.
“We do everything we can to keep people safe,” Chouris explained.
She noted they have their own full-time, year round security team. This year, an additional 40 to 50 safety personnel were hired.
“We also work closely with Palm Beach County sheriffs to help with traffic control and make sure everything goes smoothly,” Chouris said.
Additionally, the fair announced that any persons under the age of 18 were required to be accompanied by an adult after 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. This rule was instigated after Chouris noticed how unsupervised youths were roaming the fairgrounds, possibly agitating other fairgoers and altering the family-friendly atmosphere.
“The purpose of that was definitely for safety reasons,” Chouris noted.
After the rule took effect, Chouris regarded it as a success. She explained that she saw “very few incidents.” She expects to continue the rule for future fairs. However, some still feel this is an issue.
“I saw lots of teenagers. I went on a Friday evening and tons of groups of teens were there walking around and hanging out,” said Lazarus, who attended the fair after the rule change.
In regards to ride safety, Chorus explained that the rides are inspected by the state of Florida prior to the opening of the fair. “We also have an inspector on-site throughout the whole 17 days.”
Safety, of course, was on all fairgoers' minds. The fair also worked to accommodate the safety concerns of individuals with sensory sensitivities. Once other venues in the area became certified, the fair started their own certification process this year to become sensory inclusive.
“We wanted to be more diverse and inclusive,” said Rita De Mier-Lincoln, director of brand management at the fair.
To help with the safety of sensory individuals, all the staff at the fair were trained to recognize symptoms of panic or distress. The staff was equipped with bags containing noise-canceling headphones, items to fidget with, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads. Quiet rooms were also added throughout the fairgrounds so that fairgoers had the opportunity to escape the noise or relax.
The fair also sought to promote autism awareness. The company Movia brought this year’s theme, “Rockin’ Robots,” which featured robotics exhibits, both big and small, for fairgoers to admire.
Movia, according to their website, “is a collaborative robotics company building systems and software to help children on the autism spectrum learn and grow using robotic technology.”
Amid all the changes to this year's fair, not all were considered an improvement to fairgoers. A $10 parking fee was established in a lot that had been free in previous years.
“I think it’s unnecessary, considering you have to pay an entrance fee plus the ride tickets,” Lazarus said. “I think the fair in general is already a little pricey for what you get, so charging for parking is a bit too much in my opinion.”
However, the fair still attracted new and familiar faces. Families from across Palm Beach County turned up for classic fair traditions like funnel cakes and Ferris wheels.
Even though the fair looked slightly different this year, people from all over Palm Beach County and the surrounding area attended. The South Florida Fair was a success through its ability to cater to different safety concerns for people of all different backgrounds.
By Jasmine Lien and Matthew Sargent