Most fairgoers like their traditions. Some only want the steak sandwich found at that one food booth that they eat at every single year. Others must always start their fair day at the same gate and visit their favorite fair attractions in the same order. One family we know always starts their day at the fair at the grist mill near Heritage Circle, with a hot, free hush puppy.
For others, it’s a trip to the Commercial and Education Building for a pickle, a peanut sample and then a bag of peanuts to take home.
Since the 1950s, Mt. Olive has been selling pickles to fairgoers. Last year, they sold about 50,000 pickles during the fair. Fairgoers can enjoy sweet gherkins, kosher dills, large dills, sour, and hot and spicy varieties. One customer comes by the booth a few times each time he visits the fair, because his favorite pickle, the hot and spicy, is not available at many grocery stores. A Mt. Olive employee working the pickle booth will be quick to tell you, however, that more women than men get the hot and spicy.
The pickle booth has remained largely unchanged over the 60 years they have been at the fair. Lynn Williams, Mt. Olive’s public relations manager, said that about 10 years ago the company invested in new cabinets, signage and lighting for their booth. Williams added that Mt. Olive employees love the fair and talking to people – about pickles, of course.
If you ask, most fairgoers in line will tell you that they get a pickle every year when they come to the fair. The reason why? They like pickles, and the ones at the fair are the best.
Pickles were free when the booth started in the 1950s. Now the pickle of your choice will run you 50 cents, but the scratch-and-sniff pickle stickers are free, as is entering the guess-the-number-of-pickles contest. The closest guess each day wins a Mt. Olive prize pack at the end of the fair.
The Education Building holds another fair vendor that has quite the loyal following. The Exchange Club of North Raleigh has been selling Houston peanuts at the fair for 47 years. They begin the fair with a tractor trailer full of peanuts, close to 10,000 boxes full of bags of peanuts.
Fair sales represent the largest fundraiser for the club. Money raised at the fair goes to child abuse prevention, the American Red Cross and college scholarships. The booth relies on old and new customers to build their business, and while I was there recently, a steady stream of fairgoers were buying two or more bags of salted or unsalted peanuts to take home.
Even those not interested in taking a bag home can’t help but be tempted by Exchange club members in aprons passing out samples. The floor of the building, scattered with broken shells, is an obvious indicator of the number of people who get peanuts while walking through the building.
Repeat customers will tell you that they come every year to buy a bag because the peanuts are good, and the money goes to a good cause. You can pick up a small bag of peanuts for $3 or a large bag for $5.
Coming to the fair to see what is new and exciting is always fun. But it’s always nice to know that the pickles, peanuts and other traditions fairgoers have come to love will be here too.