By Sylvia Dunnavant Hines
From smoked turkey legs to custom-made cigars, Black-owned businesses are getting their hustle on as they prepare for the State Fair Classic weekend, which will bring thousands to the southern sector of Dallas, and all across the D/FW Metroplex; with millions of dollars in revenue.
“We are proud to host the State Fair Classic game every year,” said Mitchell Glieber, President of the State Fair of Texas. “It is a great way to kick off the State Fair because it always happens on the first Saturday of the Fair. Although our opening day is Friday, the game happens during opening weekend. It provides a jump-start to get our air and everything kicked off on a very positive note.
The economic impact of the game and other festivities is enormous, according to Glieber.
“From an economic impact standpoint, I know that the Dallas Sports Commission has done a study that shows the game not only has an impact on the State Fair but the community at large. We have visitors coming from different parts of Texas and Louisiana to come to see the game. When these people come into town, they are benefiting the city of Dallas and the surrounding hotels and restaurants that are in the city as well.”
According to the study done by the Dallas Sports Commission, the classic has an annual estimated economic impact of $8.5 million for the City of Dallas.
“The State Fair Classic is a significant event for the city, but it also has a great tradition for the State Fair of Texas, and it is something that we have been proud to host since 1925,” said Glieber.
The original State Fair Classic game was held on October 19, 1925, in the Cotton Bowl between the Wiley College Wildcats and the Langston University Lions with about 5,000 in attendance.
According to statistics from the State Fair of Texas in 2017 the classic game attendance was 55,231 which solidified the event as one of the largest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) football classics in the nation and the largest Division I FCS football game in Texas that year.
“Since 1985 Grambling and Prairie View have been a great match up. This combination is a great tradition not only for the schools and their fans but really for the entire community,” continued Glieber. “It has turned into a football game which is always entertaining. The battle of the bands adds an extra special element to the game.”
Glieber admitted that with an audience of over 50,000 people game attendees are getting more than just a football experience.
“When you bring that number of people to the State Fair, they are coming for more than just the game. They are going to show up a few hours in advance of the game, staying for the game and staying afterward as well,” he said. “It is very nice for our vendors, especially because all our vendors that participate at the fair are independent and all the concessioners and ride operators are independent contractors. Therefore, the game is a great business for them.”
With millions of dollars being generated by the State Fair Classic, Harrison Blair, President of the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, wants to make sure that Black -owned businesses are benefitting from the city’s financial overflow during the classic weekend.
“Black-owned businesses want to see hungry folk. The Texas State Fair hosts one of the biggest selections of fried foods that you can find anywhere in the world. When you start looking at different vendors that will be at the State Fair this year, at least 10 of the vendors that we work with on a regular basis will be represented,” said Blair.
In 1964, Little Bob’s BarB-Q became the first Black-owned food vendor at the State Fair. In the 1980s Smokey John’s BBQ joined the now growing list of Black-owned food vendors. “The monetary impact from the game is huge for the city. Typically, it generates about $8.5 million from the 55,000 plus fans that attend the event. When you start breaking down that $8.5 million and where it goes a lot of it is coming through vendors who are at the State Fair,” said Blair.
In an effort to increase entrepreneurship, Blair is currently working with a few businesses that started out at the State Fair and are now working on getting brick-and-mortar locations.
Coming out of the pandemic, the State Fair will still be making history with Black-owned businesses. This year Roz Staf-ford-Grady will be the first African American to have a cigar lounge at the State Fair, with her Cedar Hill-based business, Smoking Jacket Cigar Lounge.
“I was overwhelmed with excitement to make history as a Black business owner at one of the biggest state fairs in the world,” said Stafford-Grady.
According to Blair, this year is going to be an opportunity for many businesses to leverage the State Fair and get their business to the next level.
“I think the State Fair attendance will be at a record number because many people haven’t been out regularly in the last two years. People are eager to get back to life. There will be a huge demand for a lot of vendors. If you haven’t had a corny dog in two years, imagine how happy you will be to see Fletchers and how happy Fletchers will be to see you,” said Blair, who is a graduate of Prairie View.
“The State Fair Classic has always been a tradition for my family and me and probably for many Black people in the state. If you are Black and, in this state, someone in your family went to an HBCU.”
Although gathering large crowds of people can create a high-security risk environment, Glieber contends that the State Fair is taking the necessary steps to ensure everyone is safe.
“We are fortunate to have an excellent relationship with the Dallas Police Department. They provide our primary onground security for the entire fair,” he explained. “There is nothing different for game day than there would be for any day of the fair.
“Except, of course, we will have Dallas Police Officers inside the stadium. Every day is important to us from a safety and security standpoint. Obviously, we want to make sure that the environment is as safe as possible inside the stadium and outside the stadium.”