The smell of caramel apples will soon fill the air of the Puyallup fairgrounds, but some Washington State Fair vendors are not attracting as many employees as they need.
“I definitely feel like there are less employees available this year,” Billy Marcoe said.
Marcoe owns Marcoe & Sons Candy Co. along with his brother and father. Their business has been present at the state fair since the 1930s, and they are known for their sweet cream caramel apples and other sugary treats.
For the past couple of years, the candy business thrived on referrals from returning employees, Marcoe said. Employees who work at the fair would bring new employees the following year.
When the fair was canceled in 2020 in response to the pandemic, Marcoe said their business took a hit because they lost “a year of referrals.” The only other time the fair has been canceled was during World War II.
“A lot of our employees have found new jobs, gone off to college,” Marcoe said. “This year for sure, I’ve seen a lot less outreach for people looking for positions.”
Some departments working directly under the state fair are also following the same trend. The clean-up department, for one, still needs more staff members, said Stacy Van Horne, public relations manager for the Washington State Fair.
Van Horne said the fair does not have a number on how many employees they still need as “it’s literally changing every day,” but they plan to continue hiring up until the day of the fair. This year’s fair is scheduled to run from Sept. 3-26.
On the fair’s website, open positions include dining room cleanup, dustpan control and restroom attendants. Positions are also open for special attractions and parking attendants. Fair employees will earn $15 per hour.
“We want more people, we need more people, but we will make it work,” Van Horne said. “We will … continue to do our best to make sure all the guests have a great experience.”
Marcoe said their business usually hires about 80 people for the fair. To date, they only have about 50-60 employees. People can expect to work as a cashier or help package caramel apples, among other goods.
“I think we’ll be OK,” Marcoe said. “The 80 quota is kind of going above what we need. It’s more so a safety net in my mind.”
Marcoe & Sons Candy Co.’s pay rate is mixed and depends on the position — some would earn $13.69 per hour, which is Washington state’s minimum wage, while others would earn $15 per hour, Marcoe said.
Another vendor at the fair — Earthquakes Biggest Burgers — usually has about 110 employees by late August. Owner Larry Ball said only 50-60 people have signed up to work so far.
“It’s hard to know how many hours a lot of them are going to be able to give us because their other employer is holding so tight to them,” Ball said. “It’s a real fear of the unknown if we’re going to get anybody or not.”
Ball is “trying to get anybody that’s willing to go to work” and raised their pay to $15 per hour. He said employees who work until the end of the fair can expect a bonus.
“We’ll just do the best we can,” Ball said. “I think everybody’s going to be more patient than normal.”
People interested in applying to work at the fair or with a vendor can get an application at the fairgrounds lobby from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. More information can be found on the employment page of the fair’s website.