Things are coming up aces for the Western Montana Fair.
The first year of free admission saw record attendance this decade, with large bumps in advertising money, concessions and carnival earnings.
All of that caught the eye of the Rocky Mountain Association of Fairs, an industry group that handed Missoula County’s fair an award for innovation.
“The purpose of this award is to recognize members in our association who have implemented a successful new project, program or effort that demonstrates excellence in innovation and creativity,” RMAF wrote, according to a release from the Western Montana Fair.
The innovation award isn’t undue, as Missoula’s fair this year — from attendance, to donations to concessions sales — blew previous years out of the water, despite steep competition from two new amphitheaters in town and wildfire smoke that hung in the Missoula Valley for weeks over the summer.
But those events may have drawn more people to the fair, events manager Tom Aldrich told the Missoulian in August. On their way to a music festival, they would stop in at the fair, especially given that it was free, he said.
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“It was just terrific to see it full all week long,” Aldrich said.
The fair also won three design awards, including first place for logo, second place for the event guide and third for the premium book.
All this year’s fair materials were designed by local artist Josh Quick.
Earlier this fall, the Missoula County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to continue the free fair model, given its success.
“We definitely met our revenue goal in order to make it sustainable,” Aldrich said.