The crowds, noise, traffic - outside the fair

Boy Scout fundraiser
A group of Boy Scouts and their parents park cars near the State Fair as a fundraiser.
MPR photo/Jessica Mador

For 12 days each year, more than a million people flock to the Minnesota State Fair. There are the crowds, the noise, the garbage — and that's outside the fair.

The people who live near the fair's main entrance have mixed feelings about life in their Falcon Heights neighborhood during the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

Richard Herriges has lived in the State Fair neighborhood for 30 years. The noise and traffic start each day around six in the morning and lasts until around midnight, he said.

From his St. Paul living room, the sounds of the park-and-ride buses can be heard as they rumble past his window every minute or so.

"The buses that get a little annoying are the ones that use the engine brake. When they go down the hill they get louder like that," Herriges said, imitating the sound. "It's a little extra exclamation point on the sound of the vehicle."

Herriges gets weary of drunken fighting on his street, cars blocking his driveway, and fair-goers cutting through his yard at night.

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After thieves stole some bonsai trees from his yard one year, Herriges makes sure to hide anything valuable and lock his doors.

Boy Scouts
Boy Scouts Logan Sullivan, Joseph Connolly and Connor Sullivan help park cars at a church one block from the State Fair to raise money for camp and supplies.
MPR photo/Jessica Mador

The fair also changes his daily routine. He doesn't drive on Snelling Avenue when it's time to go shopping. And he's come to expect the unexpected — people ring his doorbell at all hours of the day or night to ask to use the bathroom, or for help or directions.

There are other new chores, too.

"The State Fair and the city of St. Paul do a great job putting out trash barrels and people just ignore them so every day you have to clean up the yard. I get tired of that," Herriges said. "Vendors come by and put things under people's windshield wipers. When people come back from the fair, their inclination is not to walk to the trash barrel but leave it where they found it. So you get the chance to pick that up for the 12 days of the fair."

Herriges wishes State Fair organizers were more responsive to neighborhood complaints.

People who live near the State Fairgrounds complain of vendors putting flyers on cars in the neighborhood every day. They say people returning to their cars after the fair often throw the flyers on the ground instead of disposing of them in the trash. Residents must clean the garbage up.
MPR photo/Jessica Mador

But State Fair officials say they are accessible and that they work around the clock with the surrounding cities to ensure neighborhood safety and cleanliness.

Despite the hassles of noise, litter and traffic, Herriges loves living near the fairgrounds. He and his family go to the fair every year.

"I even worked at the fair when I was a kid in high school. I took tickets, basic stuff like that. It was a good way to make a little money before I went back to high school," he said.

At a church about a block from the State Fair, three uniformed Boy Scouts and their parents hustle to collect cash and direct cars through the parking lot.

Boy Scout mom Leah Sullivan said the money they raise during the fair is enough to pay for all the troop's activities the rest of the year.

"And we give some to Girl Scouts, to Cub Scouts and to the church. It's a good fundraiser," Sullivan said.

Selling parking spots
Parking spots are advertised along Arona St. two blocks east of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights, Minn. Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

They charge the same amount every day.

"Ten dollars," says a group of Boy Scouts in unison.

Connor Sullivan, 9, says parking cars during the State Fair is fun.

"I like collecting the money and stuff. Sometimes they give you tips," he said.

Scout Joseph Connolly, 11, doesn't mind working four-and-a-half-hour shifts in the parking lot.

"It's kind of fun because you can meet a lot of people and sometimes people you know they just come here," Connolly said. "And a lot of people come here every year so you get to know them better and better."

Connolly is following a family tradition. His dad, Mike Connolly, has been parking cars outside the State Fair since he was a kid himself. He grew up just a few blocks south of the fair.

"Back then we got like a dollar a car and we'd get like half a dozen only during the weekends back then and that was back in the late '60s, early '70s, so that was quite a while ago," Connolly said.

Back on Midway Parkway, Herriges says he loves checking out the exhibits and the animals at the fair. He enjoys watching fair-goers flood his neighborhood every year in search of a good time. He's proud to live near the fairgrounds.

But by the fair's last day, Herriges is ready for it to be over.

"Probably the best day is day 13 when all of this magically goes away," Herriges said.