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Fun can be frugal at Manatee fair


The skinflints among us can frolic on the cheap at the Manatee County Fair.

The fair, which opened Thursday and continues through Jan. 24, offers a wealth of fun for those not wanting to break the bank.

Even if you have managed to escape involuntary fiscal discipline imposed by the recession, there’s no reason to throw money away unnecessarily.

On some days, youngsters can even skip the cost of admission.

And even if you do end up paying the $7 admission for adults 13 and older, once you’re in the gate, you’ll find free offerings abound.

On Friday, fairgoers strolled around the cow barns; gasped at a high-dive show with a platform 80 feet high, and teased a performer named “Tall Tex,” who stands 7 feet, 18 inches with the help of stilt-like boots.

A bevy of free musical acts and strolling entertainers kept fairgoers clapping, singing and dancing, encouraged by the sunny return of mild weather after a nasty freeze.

“We’re cheap,” confessed Bill and Betty West, retired snowbirds from Medina, Ohio, who spend the winter at Holmes Beach.

They were sharing a strawberry shortcake at a picnic table near the Midway.

She liked the animals and photo exhibits. He was looking forward to the chili they planned to take home with them for later. It came from the Cattlemen & Cattlewomen’s Booth, costing just $3 a bowl.

Fair Manager Daniel West noted that here, fairgoers don’t pay extra to see entertainers like they do at other places.

“All the entertainment is free with the gate admission,” he noted. “You could go to other places, and have to buy extra tickets to see entertainers. You could pay $20, $30, $40, but here you see all the stage and strolling acts for free, so it’s a good value all the way around.”

Monday and again Friday, Jan. 22, admission is free from noon to 3 p.m. to all children and students with school identification, West said.

(Regular gate admission for children 5 and under is free, too; children 6-12 pay $5, and seniors 55 and up, $6).

The fair’s “Midway armband specials,” listed under “fair schedules” at, allow unlimited Midway rides at certain hours during the fair for $18 or $20 each, said West.

For instance, the armband costs $20 from noon to midnight today and Sunday, and from noon to 10 p.m. Monday. It costs $18 from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, and noon to 10 p.m. Wednesday.

You can even skimp on the cost of food if you stay away from expensive items.

For instance, if you have a couple of small children, try a $5 plate of two eggs, two sausage patties, two biscuits, grits and coffee from The Filling Station, operated by Hope International Ministries, of Parrish.

Give each kid one of the biscuits with a sausage patty set inside. The adults split the eggs, coffee and grits, and you all leave full and happy, with change in your pocket.

Many kids prefer goofy and free stuff to fancy and expensive, anyway.

“My daughter enjoys stuff like that,” laughed Melissa Bosque, 35, of Terra Ceia, whose daughter Lily, 2, clearly enjoyed a simple, silly open-air puppet show called “Grandpa’s Chicken Coop.”

Everybody was sprawled out on fake grass cloths, or perched on bleachers, as the puppeteer cracked corny jokes.

“We’re here just to waste a Friday,” said Bosque.

And they were doing a really good job of it, too.

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