In showdown of ‘lives vs. money’, Crow Wing County Fair stays dry

In a state that is head-over-heels in love with beer and considers it a key ingredient of economic development, Crow Wing County is standing out for its willingness to oppose a beer garden at its county fair.

The Brainerd Dispatch reports the Crow Wing County Board has voted for a second straight year to deny a liquor license to the fair.


Because a lot of people in Crow Wing County have lost loved ones to alcohol, the Dispatch says.

The board also heard from Kathy Jordan, whose son Joey was killed by a drunk driver. Jordan said she understood people would continue to drink and drive whether beer was at the fair or not, but urged the board to consider whether they wanted to be responsible for the consequences.

“I want you to really think about this and please say no to a beer garden,” Jordan said.

Jim Erickson of East Gull Lake told the board his son died in a 1991 crash after driving drunk.

“I, as his father, drove drunk when I was younger, and I set a bad example,” Erickson said. “I bring that up to you folks because in a sense, you are setting an example for the public.”

Lorna Hensch, a volunteer with MADD whose sister died from a crash with a drunk driver, said she understood the fair board faced financial difficulties and saw a beer garden as a revenue-raising opportunity, but she suggested there were many other ways the board could raise funds. Hensch said the board could consider charging fairgoers 50 cents at the gate or organize fundraisers such as rummage sales.

The secretary of the county fair board says nearly every other county fair in Minnesota has a beer garden.

“Without innovation and something new to see, we will lose patrons,” Sharon Ryappy said. “We are intent on maintaining a quality fair that is free to our patrons and continue to operate responsibly on a limited budget.”

Beer, apparently, is bigger than bands in Brainerd. Ryappy said the fair tried to make money with the Johnny Holm Band but turnout was poor.

“The bottom line here is, we need revenue,” Ryappy said. “If this wasn’t working in 98 percent of the fairs, 98 percent of the fairs would not be engaging in the beer sales.”

Commissioner Paul Thiede told Ryappy he’s not bothered by the fact the county fair is one of the few dry fairs in the state.

“Your opposition in the audience says it’s not just about revenue, it’s about lives,” he said.