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SC State Fair announces food drive-through for April, cautiously plans fall return

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A State Fair worker delivers an elephant ear on the opening day of the drive-thru State Fair on Monday Oct. 19. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

The South Carolina State Fair food drive-thru, held as a fill-in for the annual fall event in October, is back for a second round next month.

While that COVID-friendly event, slated for April 6-11, is sure to satiate some fairgoers’ cravings, organizers have bigger hopes for the fall. General Manager Nancy Smith said they’re cautiously planning to hold the October fair as an in-person event if pandemic conditions allow it to be held safely.

“I’m very tentative to say anything right now,” she responded. “Right now we are taking everything with COVID in consideration. We are planning with moving forward with the 2021 S.C. State Fair in an in-person way, in some shape or form.

“That’s always by the little addendum: ‘according to COVID.’ ”

Smith said she’s hopeful that growing vaccinations and overall improvement in the pandemic will lend itself to the event being able to happen in person. The organization is in contact with the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control regularly and is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will ultimately “err on the side of safety,” Smith explained.

She also pointed to other states, like Florida, which she said have begun to bring fairs back as in-person events.

“We’re moving forward on what we can do and how we can do it and we’re excited,” Smith offered. “(We’re) just thankful that things are opening up and we do feel positive about it.”

If COVID-19 dashes their plans for a traditional fair this fall, she expects they will hold some form of event in its place. That could mean another riff on the drive-thru concept or something else — the group is leaving its options open.

First, though, is the second edition of the food-focused drive-thru. The fall version drew in roughly 20,500 cars and was well received by attendees and participating vendors, Smith said.

But with free entry, it paled in comparison to the normal event when it came to revenue, she explained. But it was executed with little issue and did draw in some extra funds through food sales.

“We had one good experience and it works,” Smith said. “We decided to give (people) a close-to-springtime event to kind of get them thinking in the fair direction.”

As with the fall version, the spring iteration will find vendors slinging fried snacks, turkey legs and other favorites to folks driving through the line. There’s only a spare number of changes — they’ve added fried sweet treats, combined elephant ears and funnel cakes, and added roasted sweet corn — to the upcoming version. Long-time staple Fiske Fries will again be included.

The fall version also included other typical fair stops, like agricultural displays and livestock, which won’t be included next month.

The drive-thru’s return comes as some high-profile events have announced in-person returns. The organizers of the Gervais Street Bridge Dinner plan to host 1,000 people on May 2, one day after the popular Rosewood Crawfish Festival is set to take place at the State Fairgrounds.

Smith said the group was ultimately “very comfortable” with the drive-thru version of the event during current pandemic conditions and gave little thought to doing it a different way.

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