click to enlarge Visitors need food and parking
Photo by Meredith Howard
Fulgenzi's Pizza and Pasta.

With half-a-million attendees or more in a single year, there's a large need for parking and food options near the fairgrounds. Bill Tinsley owns Main Gate Bar & Grill, 2143 N. 11th St., so named for its proximity to the main entrance. Despite the many food vendors at the fair, his restaurant will remain open throughout the fair. Tinsley said the 2020 fair's cancellation cost him about $30,000.

However, the end of capacity restrictions has allowed for growth so far this year. Tinsley said that sales have increased about 10% every month since the start of 2021.

"It's exciting, just trying to keep enough people, keep enough product and provide a decent level of service," Tinsley said. Tinsley will be offering parking for $5 to $7 in seven lots he recently acquired, totaling about 100 parking spots. He said he aims to make at least $1,000 per day from the parking, and he plans to hire a couple of flaggers to assist in managing the lots.

Tinsley said that the lots' projected earnings are as high as they are in part because of the quick turnover. He expects a three-time turnover for each spot each day.

"Very few people stay 14 or 16 hours. I'd say the average is three to four hours," Tinsley said. "Some are shorter, some are longer. But, you pay one price and you can park all day." Main Gate customers will still have access to parking at no additional cost.

Fulgenzi's Pizza and Pasta, 1168 E. Sangamon Ave., is taking a different approach, offering fair parking in lieu of having the restaurant open. Owner John Fulgenzi and his wife plan to staff their parking lot themselves, and prices may fluctuate each day depending on the fair's schedule and how many people are looking for parking.

Fulgenzi said that the money maker for his business is not necessarily the state fair itself, but the horse shows and other agriculture events leading up to the fair. His restaurant sees a 20%-30% increase in business during special events held at the fairgrounds.

Fulgenzi said that last year's cancellation of the events before the fair "really impacted the business quite a bit. If it weren't for drive-up windows, we would have been in trouble." -Meredith Howard

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