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Friday, June 21, 2024

Medieval fair feels effects of economic downturn

Merchants at the annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire have noticed a snag in their chain mail in recent years.

Vendors in the transit-based business of working the medieval and renaissance fair circuit have been slowly starting to feel the effects of the struggling economy and rising gas prices.

"The patrons are not able to come as often or travel as far," said Sara Dunlap, of Sarasota, whose business, Ladye Fayre, sells handmade dolls and puppets at fairs around the country.

Dunlap, who has been coming to the Gainesville fair for 20 years, said she and her husband try to use only one vehicle when on the road because gas costs have cut into her profits and forced her to raise prices.

Dunlap has found that moving her business to the Internet helps save money.

"I never thought I'd have a Web site, but it makes it easier to cut down on travel," she said.

Despite the setbacks, Dunlap said she is not ready to give up fairs completely.

Louis Bracht, a ride operator who lives on the road, said patrons are less willing to pay for anything more than admission and food these days.

"There is nothing you need at a renaissance fair-it's all extravagance and impulse," he said. "Times like these, people are less willing to spend on the extravagance."

Bracht said customers are quick to complain about even small increases in the price of rides.

Casey Martin, a performer in the acrobatic comedy show Barely Balanced, said she has felt the effects as well.

"People have not been tipping as much," she said.

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Martin also said that at some fairs where the performers have to camp, fair management is beginning to charge performers for utilities.

Despite economic challenges, the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire strives to keep prices as low as possible, said Linda Piper, fair coordinator.

Even so, the price of child admission rose from $5 to $6 this year, and even though the price for adults is the same this year, it has risen $7 since the fair began.

"[The fair] must generate enough revenue itself, or it won't continue," she said.

Still, Piper said the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, with adult admissions of $12, is cheaper than other medieval fairs, which have an average adult admission of $24.99.

Piper explained that all the money from admissions goes directly into a fund for next year's fair. By doing so, budget cuts incurred to the city do not affect the fair as they do other city-run events, said Piper, citing the discontinuation of the ice skating rink in downtown Gainesville this winter as an example.

"We're not here to make money," she said. "We're here to put on a quality event."

Despite the increase in admission price, Piper said the economy has not hurt attendance so far.

Saturday, the first day of the fair, had the usual number of "lords and ladies" in attendance, even with a slow opening due to rain.

"The weather is appropriate for the weather they had in the middle ages," said Piper, as the rain soaked into her dark blue cape and light blue, period-piece gown.

Patrons were able to enjoy their usual favorites at the opening of this year's fair, including turkey legs, face paining, elephant rides and archery.

The theme for this year's event is "In the Days of Robin Hood." The Thieves Guilde, a volunteer acting group, picks the theme every year and incorporates it into the Living Chess Game, a show that is performed on a giant chess board.

Even with the drizzle, crowds filled the stands to witness the joust between Sir Douglas and Sir Victor as they battled before the King and Queen. After the joust, patrons were encouraged to pet the horses-or the knights, if they so fancied.

This year, eight UF interns and more than 200 volunteers were trained to help run the event.

"What's so special about this event is that it's a community event so people are anxious to be involved," Piper said.

The 22nd Annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire will continue this weekend.

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