… But the fair is where you go to get cotton candy”
With new management has come a new moniker. The Tri-County Fairgrounds are no longer that. Since Jen McGuire took over as CEO in December, the site has been renamed the “All-New Tri-County Fairgrounds and Event Center,” and McGuire hopes to change far more than just the name.
Her goal: “Get the place right-side-up again.”
The fairgrounds have been wrong-side-up for some time. According to McGuire, the financials have been in the red, deep in the red, the facilities have been in desperate need of repairs, and relationships with volunteers and the community have been broken.
A change must be made, and McGuire has already set steadfastly to work to make that change.
McGuire comes from the fair industry. She has worked at the Ventura County Fair, Santa Barbara County Fair, the Mid- State Fair, and the San Antonio Stock Show, and has held the roles of exhibitor, volunteer, staff person, and, as she said, “mom of volunteers.”
She eventually got into the sponsorship side of fairs, and that took her out of the industry. She was poached to work in agriculture advertising, and she worked in that industry for 15 years.
Now her kids are grown and she is financially comfortable, so she can do what she wants to do: work in the fair industry. She looked for years for the right position at the right fair.
The eastern Sierra had been close to her heart since youth.
Growing up in Ventura county, McGuire would come to Mule Days as a kid. Later she owned a condo in Mammoth Lakes and was an avid skier and hiker.
The Bishop job was the first that she applied for. She left her house in Ventura and moved up to Bishop in her RV.
In her five months at the helm McGuire has attacked the challenges facing the Tri-County Fairgrounds.
Funding for fairs comes from the state, and funding is tight. McGuire said that she has cut expenses down tremendously. The fair now has three staff people, and much of the work has been done by volunteers.
McGuire also created a non-profit that will sell alcohol at events hosted at the fairgrounds. Previously, this job was contracted to a third party concessionaire. McGuire said that the revenue the fair generates by selling its own alcohol will be “huge.”
Another way that McGuire is saving money is by bootstrapping her facilities improvements.
There was a decrepit shed on the property that was once used as a carport, and then as storage at the time of McGuires arrival. McGuire had a vision to turn the space into, “something unique and rustic, a wine bar or beer garden sort of thing.”
Using only donations and the labor of volunteers, the shed has been converted into exactly what McGuire described, a quaint, fun event space with unlimited potential. The outside has a fenced in bar area. The inside has decorations reflecting the local cattle ranchers, tribes, and community of the eastern Sierra.
The Inyo Associates held their monthly meeting there earlier this month.
“We took something that people were going to throw away and we recycled it, reused it,” she said.
In the two weeks since unveiling her rustic beer garden she has already received requests for use as a wedding venue.
The main stage of the fairground has also received a full facelift thanks to donations from Berger Solar Electric. It has a new sound system, lights, paint and a mixing room, all donated. McGuire didn’t show off the new speakers, but she said they sound great.
In order to make the fairgrounds more of a community center, McGuire is trying to diversify the events that take place there.
She is hosting a concert on Mother’s Day that will be free for moms, an open mic night, a youth concert series, and a Jimmy Buffett-themed party with trucked-in sand and margaritas, among other events. She wants to host multi-day festivals where people can camp on the grounds for the weekend.
She said that she opened up a new area of the fairgrounds to camping and has seen many climbers tent-camping on the grounds while they are in town.
“We’ve got 88 acres here that we can utilize, so I would like to utilize every aspect of it,” she said.
If McGuire can achieve her vision and turn the All-New Tri-County Fairgrounds and Event Center into the community center that it is meant to be, it will be a great benefit to the eastern Sierra, but it will not be easy
“It’s an uphill climb,” she said, “but I’m a climber.”