MOUNT VERNON — Introducing a beer garden to the Knox County Fair initially raised concern with some members of the community. Despite the push-back, Matthew Jones, director with the Knox County Senior Fair Board and chair of committee for the beer garden, says it went off without a hitch and they received plenty of positive feedback.
“We’ve heard its been very clean in here, very controlled in here, and everyone has been friendly in here. The prices, they’ve been amazed at, because they feel like they’re getting their fair share, they’re not your average ballpark prices. Everyone has been very happy,” Jones said.
The beer garden, which included beer on tap from a local microbrewery and common brands, managed to keep their prices at $7 and below, something Jones said has been appreciated by its patrons. Jones said they wanted patrons to be able to enjoy one or two beers while watching an event, much like one would do while out to dinner.
“We’re here to provide a safe place to have an adult beverage, eat some food, watch the events and enjoy,” Jones said.
The garden has a ten beverage ticket limit, but Jones said they reserved the right to cut anyone off before that. Jones said that board members went through a training on how to check IDs and recognize signs of intoxication so they were prepared when managing the tent.
There were times when they had to cut patrons off, but Jones said they were always cooperative and no incidents occurred. Fair board members and volunteers also contributed to running the garden.
The garden operated in three different locations at the fairgrounds; the infield, near the grandstand and near the practice arena. Only one was open at a time, depending on what event was occurring that evening. Despite having three locations, Jones said the garden was rather inconspicuous.
At a fair board meeting in June, concerns were raised about the safety of children at the fair, and a few community members feared that the fair was becoming not family-friendly due to the addition of alcohol.
“There was some big stuff brought up about kids getting hurt, and nothing has happened like that,” Jones said. He mentioned that if a patron appears that they might become a hindrance to anyone at the fair or could possibly make the fair board or county look bad, they’ll cut them off and ask them to leave.
“They have a lot on this, looking at the bigger picture. I’m not going to do anything to put that permit in jeopardy. I’m not going to give us a bad name because one person wants to have too many drinks, it’s not worth it,” Jones said. “You can go home and finish drinking your night away if you want to. Get a ride, get home safe, do what you want to, but you’re not going to do it here, because it’s a family place,” Jones said.
Overall, the beer garden went over much smoother than Jones expected.
“This has gone as smooth as smooth can be. I didn’t even expect it to go as smooth as it’s going because of some of the backlash we received, but this event, there’s just been no issues,” Jones said.
The initial expected revenue from the beer garden was $30,000 to $40,000, but Jones said that was not met this year. He said that those numbers were based off of fairs that had bigger events such as concerts, and he did not expect to meet it based on the size of the fair and its events.
Going forward, Jones said he wouldn’t change much to how the beer garden was ran, and expects it to be a feature once again at the 2020 Knox County Fair.