Each year the Jackson County Fair draws 20,000 people. The five-day summer bash features all the Americana awesomeness a good fair needs — horse shows, corn dogs, live music, a beer garden. The carnival is also a big draw.
“It’s a place for everybody to meet and see your neighbors, and your neighbors from 30, 40 miles away,” says Mike Stade, president of the fair board.
In 2012, organizers booked Minnesota's Magic Midway to bring out the rides, games, and food stands. Everything ran smoothly. At the end of the week, when owner Edwin “Skip” Reinke pushed to come back next year, the fair’s board happily re-booked him. Finding available carnival operators is one of the toughest parts of running a fair, Stade says, so they were glad to lock one in.
But as the calendar turned and the July event approached, Reinke became elusive. A series of check-in calls went unreturned. But Reinke had already accepted a $3,000 deposit. Surely he’d saved the date.
Finally, Reinke responded just days before the fair started, assuring them he would be there. On opening day, however, the Anoka man was nowhere to be found. Stade tried frantically to get him on the phone, but his calls were ignored. Eventually he got through using someone else’s phone. He wasn’t coming. No explanation.
“You’re madder than hell. You’re pissed off,” Stade recalls with a time-healed chuckle. “Why don’t you be an honest man? You knew you weren’t coming, so why didn’t you give us a heads-up?”
With Reinke bailing at the last minute, organizers were unable to find another carnival operator, bumming out children from Lakefield to Belmont Township. There are no amusement parks in the small southern Minnesota county, so the fair is Jackson kids’ one chance to risk puking up mini doughnuts on gut-scrambling rides.
The Jackson County Fair wasn’t Reinke’s first or last victim. Between 2012 and 2015, Reinke, who also operates as E.A.R. Carnival Company, bailed on at least five other city or county fairs. Still, he kept all but one of their down payments, which ranged from $2,000 to $8,500.
When Reinke no-called, no-showed for New London Water Days, someone answering his phone told organizers Reinke had died and that they were interrupting a family prayer circle. That was a lie.
(City Pages was unable to reach him; the company’s phone number has been disconnected.)
But the towns and counties Reinke allegedly screwed over may get justice. On Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit against the carny. The suit aims to put an injunction on Reinke and make him pay back the organizers he ripped off.
If Stade ever sees that $3,000 back, he says they’ll use it to make the next Jackson County Fair better than ever.