The 2022 Wisconsin State Fair is just around the corner!
And this year, there’s a new woman in charge.
WTMJ’s Libby Collins had the chance to sit down with CEO Shari Black.
Listen in the player above.
A portion of the conversation was transcribed below, courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: Anything new this year that we haven’t seen in the past?
SHARI BLACK: Yes, we have a new BMX show that is going to be coming for the first time, and I think that that’s exciting because that really hits a number of different ages that will find it fun to watch.
LIBBY COLLINS: Now, as far as the pandemic, everybody took a hit, and I know, you know, you had to cut back on hours, a lot of people still were a little leery of going to any place even if it was outside, this year it seems to be a different mentality. Do you think because people now are getting back, they’re traveling, they’re doing things, do you think this is going to be one of your highest attendances?
SHARI BLACK: Oh, I hope so. I can tell you that we learned a lot from the pandemic, especially when it came to our cleaning practices. So, we ‑‑ we implemented a number of new ways to clean, and we became GVAC certified. So, because of those cleaning protocols that we put in place after the pandemic, we are continuing those. So, all of our surfaces are cleaned, and we actually have ‑‑ the facility staff works on cleaning throughout the evenings and making sure that we’re all ready to go the next morning and you are in a very safe environment.
LIBBY COLLINS: And as far as a lot of the things that go on on the side stages, the various restaurants that have their places and they bring in entertainment, do you have any oversight on that, or do they determine who they’re going to book and when they’re going to have the various musicians and things come in?
SHARI BLACK: Sure. So, the vendors are responsible for booking their own entertainment. They do have to submit what their entertainment lineup is to us because we do overall have to approve that and make sure that it’s something that fits with our fair.
LIBBY COLLINS: Okay. So, when you compare the Wisconsin State Fair to other fairs and ‑‑ I think your husband is from, what, Iowa?
SHARI BLACK: Well, his family is from Iowa, yeah.
LIBBY COLLINS: Okay. So, you probably have been to the Iowa State Fair, you’ve been to the Minnesota State Fair, the Illinois, the Indiana, the Michigan, how does Wisconsin compare?
SHARI BLACK: So, I think that Wisconsin, even though we have a strong agriculture fair, when you look at fairs like Iowa, comparing that, very different because they’re more in a rural setting, so they have more agriculture at their fair. Minnesota is obviously ‑‑ you know, they have a lot of transportation, because they don’t have a lot of room for parking, so they’re just different that way. But Minnesota, it’s such a large facility, their grounds are so much bigger than ours. And they’re longer, too, they’re an extra day. But we all share a number of the same vendors because they’re on a route. So, a lot of the venders and even the Spin City operators that are at Wisconsin then go to Minnesota. So, we have a great relationship with Minnesota. But, Indiana, they’re going on during our fair as well as Iowa starts halfway through ours, so we can’t share everything that we would like to. But we’re all good friends and share ideas and really support one another.
LIBBY COLLINS: Is there friendly competition though?
SHARI BLACK: Oh, slightly, yeah.
LIBBY COLLINS: Yeah.
SHARI BLACK: Yeah, because, you know, Wisconsin still is the best.
LIBBY COLLINS: I love it.
What do you ‑‑ and, again, you have probably spent more hours on a fairground than certainly anybody I know between — between when you were competing as a kid and working at the Waukesha County Fair and now at the Wisconsin State Fair, was is it as a consumer that you look forward to most?
SHARI BLACK: Well, I think the food. I mean, everybody loves to eat, right, you can’t go wrong with that, but it definitely, for me, really watching ‑‑ especially the kids that are showing for like the first time and how excited they get when they get a ribbon, doesn’t matter what color it is, they’re just excited to be there and have the ribbon.
LIBBY COLLINS: And your kids compete.
SHARI BLACK: They do, at Waukesha.
LIBBY COLLINS: And what are they showing this year?
SHARI BLACK: They show hogs. So, they have ‑‑ they didn’t last year or the year before because, you know, all the pandemic stuff going on, but they’re back this year. My boys are showing, my daughter will be out of town for a lacrosse tournament, but they’re excited, they really enjoy it. My oldest, this is his last year showing, which I can’t believe that really went fast, but they have so much fun. And my nephew shows as well, so it’s fun for them all to show together.
LIBBY COLLINS: So, it’s really a family tradition.
SHARI BLACK: Oh, definitely. And, you know, that’s the other big part of this, too, my mom having ‑‑ there were five kids, so I have four brothers, and my parents were very supportive of 4‑H because they felt like it was the one thing we could do together as a family, and that’s so true.