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The South Florida Fair: The Happiest Time of the Year. Also the Most Dangerous?

With the South Florida Fair coming to an end, more rules have been implemented after multiple incidents of violence – most involving adolescents – have shocked local residents and created concern for future fair events.

By Jessica Harris | MediaLab@FAU

Feb 2, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.  – The South Florida Fair has always been an exciting time for locals to indulge in exhilarating rides, enjoy plentiful foods and be entertained by performances. 

The fairgrounds has brought half a million visitors annually since 1912, according to their website and has produced over 100 shows every year. 

However, violence among the throngs of fair-goers been on the rise and has presented a continuous issue. Despite new rules restricting minors, this year's fair – which ends Feb. 2 – has in recent weeks included chaotic brawls, multiple arrests, and apparent stabbings that involved minors. The reports could not be independently confirmed by MediaLab, and the press office for the fair did not respond to a request for clarification by press time.

In 2022, the fair ruled that minors under the age of 18 had to be accompanied by a guardian on Fridays and Saturdays after 8 p.m.

This year on Jan. 22, a brawl erupted which involved about 200 people. Two people were sent to Wellington Regional Medical Center. Five people, four of them minors, were arrested on multiple charges which include resisting without violence, resisting with violence, battery of a police officer and battery. According to WPTV, 150 Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office deputies were at the fairground each weekend during the fair. When the brawl occurred, they were quick to dissipate the crowd by firing non-lethal pepper ball rounds. 

Last year a similar event occurred, forcing the fair to eject multiple participants. Four people were arrested, according to WPTV.O

In response to the violence, Victoria Chouris, the President/CEO of South Florida Fair & Palm Beach County Expositions, Inc., said she was moving the nightly curfew for unaccompanied teens 17 and under to 7 p.m.

Paige Poole, Agribusiness & Community Relations Manager for the South Florida Fair, said in an email to MediaLab that Chouris is retiring from her position with the fair and that a new President/CEO would be taking over soon.

The violent incidents on multiple occasions have led some Palm Beach County residents to feel uncertain about bringing their families and friends to the fair. 

“It happens every year,” Christelle Gervais, a 23-year-old Palm Beach County resident said. “This is a time to have fun and enjoy with the people you love. Why do we have to fight?” 

Chouris has implemented additional rules to ensure security and to decrease the violence.

For example, the South Florida Fair strictly limits what attendees can bring into the fairgrounds. Fair policy states that bags brought to the fair must be clear plastic, vinyl and PVC and can’t be bigger, about 12 inches long or 6 inches wide. Small clutch bags can only be a maximum size of 9 by 6 inches and do not have to be clear. To avoid weapons, alcohol and drugs at the fairgrounds, the organizers put metal detectors at the entrance. To make sure that minors are at the fair for the right reasons, they must purchase a ride wristband. 

A minimum of four minors are allowed with guardian who is over the age of 21.

Despite the new rules in place, some people feel that the policies aren’t really putting a stop to the violence. 

“There needs to be better security when it comes to these events. There are little kids around and just a few feet away people are fighting,” said Neila Robuste, a 22-year-old Palm Beach County resident who attended the fair with her five-year-old niece. 

As the fair is coming to an end, locals hope for the next few years to be violence-free. 

“I’ve been living here most of my life,” Gervais said. “The fair used to be fun but with all this aggression coming from these kids, it makes people not wanna show up anymore.” 

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