State Fair of Texas returns Friday, but vendors dealing with labor shortage

The State Fair of Texas returns Friday after the pandemic forced it to hold a smaller, drive-thru event last year.

There are some safety suggestions, like indoor mask wearing, but the biggest difference people may notice is long lines for food.

That's because the fair is also being affected by the labor shortage.

"Whether we are ready or not, the fair is going to start," said Jack Pyland, owner of Jack's French Frys.

On the eve of the State Fair of Texas returning in its traditional form, Fair Park was bustling in preparation. 

But there was also a lot of worry. 

"I usually hire 130 people. Two weeks ago, I had 30. I was short by 100 people," Pyland said.

Pyland’s family has been working the State Fair of Texas for about 70 years.

He said, like restaurants, retail and other businesses, he’s feeling the effects of this year’s labor shortage.

On Friday, people were turning in their applications. 

This week, Pyland said he’s hired 40 employees and is still short.

The fair is a major money maker for families like Pyland’s.

Last year, he worked the COVID-restricted drive-thru fair.

He said he barely broke even.

"There was no revenue. All the revenue we took to do the drive-thru, it wasn’t a profit, just to keep the brand alive," Pyland said.

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On the other side of Fair Park, the owners of Fernies Funnel Cakes and The Dock, sisters Johnna McKee and Christi Erpillo, said they were excited about the full return of the fair. They’re back for their 52nd year, but there is also concern.

"The thing we are most frightened of is keeping up with the customers. We are still hiring as we speak," Erpillo said.

Pictures line the walls of The Dock, including pictures of Fernie herself, posing with FOX4 personalities.

This will be the first fair without her. She died in June. 

Her daughters hope, despite the challenges ahead, they can still honor their mother and father this fair season.

"If we can make it to noon [Friday], we may sit down and cry, but it will be for a variety of reasons. We may be crying because we don’t have staff, we might be crying because we have too many customers," McKee said. 

There are some COVID-19 safety suggestions in place. Masks are encouraged indoors.

Dallas County is also giving the COVID-19 vaccine near Big Tex. 

Those who get vaccinated will also get about $20 worth in free fair coupons.

RELATED: State Fair of Texas to reopen this week with COVID-19 protocols in place