Preaching, parking, and profiting: Life just outside the Minnesota State Fair

The people selling street parking at the Minnesota State Fair work together to set prices... most of the time, anyway.

The people selling street parking at the Minnesota State Fair work together to set prices... most of the time, anyway. Tom Johnson

Just across Snelling Avenue from the gates of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds sits a quiet little neighborhood.

Neighbors say it’s a pretty normal place to live, outside of those 12 days of the year when State Fair traffic swamps the area, and transforms their front lawns into a half-regulated experiment in capitalism.

Free from the stricter and more expensive rules of the Fair, the surrounding neighborhood is dotted with a variety of booths and businesspeople that either couldn’t get into the Fair, or didn't want to. For the price of a St. Paul peddler’s license and an agreement with one of the many homeowners along Snelling, just about anyone can set up shop and try their best to siphon off the Fair’s traffic, and dollars.

City Pages talked to some of these people, and got their story.


City Pages: Is this your house?
Youa (seen above): No, it’s my daughter and son-in-law’s house. I just help them out.
CP: How many cars do you typically park in a day?
Youa: Probably talking about, like, 25 cars.
CP: So you’re out here all day, pretty much.
Youa: Yeah, I’ll be out here all day.
CP: How much do you charge for a spot?
Youa: Everybody charges the same. We all come together and decide on, say $20, and so we all charge $20. We all talk to each other and match the price. So we don't do too much or too little, so that we’re even and equal. I’m not sure about far away, but this area here, we charge the same.

City Pages: How much do you charge for parking?
Adam: That depends on the day, the neighborhood kind of makes like a set price, so we all work together on that. Usually is $20 or $25. We also do $15 to $10 on slower days.
CP: How? Do you have a meeting?
Adam: Ha, no, nothing like that. I just walk over and talk to the people just working the corner, so we negotiate the prices. You don’t want to lowball your neighbor and fill up on cars very quickly. Everyone’s just trying to make a little money. I’m sure that guy right there [gestures to SUV] would pay $30 right now, but sometimes you feel bad for taking an arm and a leg to let someone park, but hey.
CP: How many cars can you fit here?
Adam: We can fit 28 on this lot. There was a tiny house here, but they tore it down, now we’re out here 12 days out of the year selling parking.

CP: What are you out here doing today?
Jason: Well, the city doesn’t have enough parking for the State Fair. So the neighbors rent out their yards, pretty much to all the people coming in. And that’s pretty much it.
CP: Sounds like a good business model.
Jason: It can be, if you work to take vacation and put your yard up correctly. Everybody does their own yard, unless you have an elderly person that still wants to make a couple of bucks. Then they’ll have their relative, or a neighbor come over and do it for them. It’s a pretty normal neighborhood, if you don’t mind 12 days of craziness, then it’s perfectly normal place to live.
CP: Does it mess with the lawn at all?
Jason: By this time next year, it’s pretty much right back to normal.
CP: Another neighbor told me you all coordinate on prices, that it’s kind of a community effort.
Jason: It all depends on how close you are. Like the guy across from the main entrance, he was charging $40 the other day. It also depends on how much traffic there is. If there’s a lot of people, and they all want spots, yeah, you raise your price a little bit. We’ve been $20 for about seven or eight years. We were $15 before that, and in a couple of years it will probably be $25. And that’s compared to the $13 or $14 the Fair charges, when you have to wait to get in and get out. You could just park in a yard and be on your way home in five minutes.
CP: Do you have to take out a permit?
Jason: No, no permit for parking. You do have to get permission from your neighbor to do it, but since everyone does it you don’t really need to do anything. If you have a vendor on your property, then you do need to get a permit from the city.
CP: Do you have a vendor on your yard?
Jason: No not us, our neighbors do. All kinds, hot tubs, services… they think they can make money, so then they pay whatever the homeowner wants for the lot. Hopefully they make money, but usually they don’t. Unless you’re selling food, nobody really cares about your stuff. For most of the Fair vendors outside the Fair, it’s neighborhood people who buy their food, not people leaving the Fair or coming in. They get the good stuff inside of the Fair.

Selling Tickets
City Pages: What are you doing out here today?
George: Selling State Fair tickets.
CP: And they’re legit tickets, right?
Jessica : Yeah. I’ve heard of someone last year selling $10 State Fair tickets that were fake, but yeah, other than that. I usually tell people you can go ahead and take a picture of me and my [points to peddler license] badge if they need to. Otherwise, this is where I’ll be.
CP: How’d you get into this business?
George: Her dad. He’s been doing this for a really long time I think. He buys like 16,000 tickets I hear.
CP: How does that business work?
George: We sell them for $14, the same price as the Fair, but we buy them for $11.
CP: Got it, so you make $3 per ticket you sell.
George: Yeah, well, her dad does. And he pays us $1 per ticket that we sell, so really he makes $2 and we make $1.
CP: How many tickets can you sell in a day?
Jessica: Well really, this is our first time doing it, and so far we’ve sold—we just did the math—around 112 so far this morning.
CP: Nice. You guys are getting the hang of things.
George: Well we work in sales usually. We sell Magic Milk Straws.
Jessica: They’re clear plastic straws with flavor beads in the middle that change the flavor of milk. They’re pretty cool. Our company doesn’t make them, but we have a partnership with the company that does, so it’s our brand.
George: We sell a bunch of other stuff as well. I don’t sell the Milk Straws, I sell lip balm and scented candles.
CP: You guys sound like a bunch of hustlers. That’s all you do.
Jessica: We’re just out here to make money, you know!
[Couple with a kid approaches.]
Jessica: Tickets for sale. Do you have tickets to the Fair yet?
CP: I hear they’re actually legitimate.
Man: Ah, actually legitimate, that’s good.
Jessica: So you guys need three?
Man: Yeah, so that’s $14 times three, so...
George: $42 I think.
Man: How come it says $11 on the ticket?
George: Because we buy them for $11 and then come here and sell them for the same price as the gate. So you can buy from us and save some time.
Man: [Pauses] Alright.
Woman: Couldn’t you sell them to us for a little cheaper? Maybe just a couple of bucks off?
George: Well actually if you go to Cub beforehand…
Woman: Yeah, I’ve got that.
George: That’s where we get them from.
[Couple buys the tickets and leaves.]
George: Usually when people ask about a discount, I just tell them that I’m saving them time. A lot of people will just be quiet and walk past us, like, “We’d rather wait in line.” I wonder, do you come to the State Fair just to wait in line? You’re going to be waiting in a lot of lines at the Fair, you may as well skip the first one.
Jessica: Time is money. Are they discounted? Kind of. How much is your time worth?

Medical Marijuana
City Pages: How is it that you’ve got a booth outside of the Fair but not inside?
Marty Super: One thing is, there’s a waiting list to get a booth inside the Fair. Also, you’re not allowed to have pictures of marijuana leaves. We can’t sell anything with marijuana leaves inside of the Fair, which a lot of our shirts have. They probably wouldn’t allow us to give away stickers either.
CP: Ah, trying to protect the people from your dangerous message.
Marty: Yep. We did have our booth inside the fair for years. We used to be called the Grassroots Party, now we’re the Legal Marijuana Now Party. When it was the Grassroots Party we were in the Fair. It’s expensive too. Out here it was $1,900 for the whole fair, inside the Fair is $2,600 for a 10’x10’. So, yeah, works good out here.
CP: How did you get this space?
Marty: One of the guys in our group knows the owner. We’ve been renting this yard for three years. We were down on the corner for one year.
CP: Do you need a permit?
Marty: Yeah, one of the guys has a peddler permit with St. Paul, but that’s all.
CP: Is the fair a big event for you guys?
Marty: It’s our biggest event of the year. I guess the biggest thing we do is we have to get signatures to get our candidates on the ballot. We need 500 good signatures, which means we have to get at least 750 or 800, because some of them you can’t read, or people from out of state sign. Things like that. So they give us two weeks to get that number of signatures and that has to be for each candidate. I ran for Minnesota Senate in District 60, and we ran two congressional districts -- one in [Congressional District] 4 and one in [District] 5, I think? And we actually had a presidential candidate as well.

Religious Evangelist

City Pages: Tell me about what brings you here today.
Paul: Well, I’m a Christian, and I’ve been saved by the grace of God and commanded to go out into the world and preach the gospel. We try to get out to where there’s large groups of people and preach, just like the way the Apostle Paul preached. We just try to follow the examples set down by Jesus and the Apostle Paul and believes since all time, just to share the good news that Jesus saves people from sin, and the penalty of sin. We’re just preaching a basic gospel message.
CP: Do you go into the Fair at all? Or do you have to have a vendor permit?
Paul: Right, yeah I stood [gestures across the street] yesterday and I was asked if I had a permit. And I didn’t, so I had to come back over here.
CP: But here across the street, you’re free to pretty much do whatever you’d like.
Paul: Right, that’s free speech. That’s what great about this country. I’ve studied a bit about the history of this country and how we got the Bill of Rights, and how there was really a lot of religious persecution in their world. I call it the Old World. Even the Puritans, when they came over here and set up Massachusetts Bay Colony to escape persecution from the Church of England, they themselves became persecuters against the Quakers and the Baptists and everything else. And then Roger Williams got a charter from England and founded Rhode Island, which became the first state where people really had religious liberty and freedom.
CP: Are you from the area or do you travel here?
Paul: I’m from Kenyon, just a little town about an hour from here.
CP: Do you get to go inside the Fair at all while you’re here?
Paul: I don’t really go inside the Fair. Believe it or not, I don’t really care for crowds of people too much. It’s what Jesus did, he hung out with a crowd of people, but I’m not a city person. I try to love my neighbor.
CP: Do you come down every day during the Fair?
Paul: Oh no, I have a regular job, but we try to get out on the weekend a couple times.
CP: Are you part of a larger group?
Paul: Well, there is a church we’re going to up in Coon Rapids right now, we’re not members. Jesus said don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together, and that seems to be what’s going on today. There’s a home church movement, and that’s OK and everything, but we think that people should be assembled together so that they can go out and spread the word of Christ.
CP: Is your goal today to have people see you?
Paul: Right, plant seeds. There’s a promise in the scriptures that whenever the word is preached it will have an effect. Sometimes it seems that nobody is interested and nobody cares, but we have that promise from God, and I know from personal experience that sometimes it’s just a few words that gets people thinking. We’re not Calvinists. We believe that man has a choice and a will that God gave to him. God doesn’t want robots.
CP: So you don’t go into the Fair at all? Not even to get a Pronto Pup?
Paul: Oh no, I’ve already got enough of one of these. [Points to belly]