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Editorial: Cotton-candy controversy

Rowan County Fair officials stirred up a sticky mess regarding a dispute over a vendor’s prices for cotton candy and lemonade.
And a lot of it comes down to the definition of “reasonable.”
From the comments left on the Salisbury Post’s Web site (www.salisburypost.com), a lot of people think that Rhonda Stirewalt’s prices for cotton candy, lemonade and tea were perfectly reasonable (“Who said $6 or $7 is a fair price for cotton candy?” one reader asked). However, fair officials viewed it otherwise. They determined that Stirewalt was selling her wares too cheaply, significantly undercutting other vendors. As a result, Stirewalt had to shut down her two concession trailers, which were set up to raise money for a couple of worthy causes: The Nazareth Children’s Home and Immanuel Lutheran Church’s Vacation Bible School.
After last year’s controversy involving management of the fair, this is the last thing fair officials needed ó or wanted. While it wouldn’t be pretty coming any time, some people find it especially outrageous to crack down on “low” prices when families in this area are struggling to make ends meet, worry about the security of their jobs and have to budget carefully simply to afford family entertainment such as the fair.
When many people already believe they’ve been gouged on gas prices, feeling pressured by the cotton-candy cartel adds more fuel to the outrage.
However, while chewing over the bitter aftertaste of this, let’s not dismiss the perspective of fair officials and those other vendors who don’t have the luxury of operating as a non-profit. For some who travel with the fair, this isn’t a sideline business or a way to raise money for a favorite cause. It’s their livelihood, and they’re having to deal with the same economic forces and rising business expenses as everyone else. From that perspective, undercutting the sweet confection competition is similar to someone offering to come in and do your job for half the salary you’re being paid. Few of us would sit still for that.
Fair officials say they raised the price issue previously with Stirewalt, although accounts differ on exactly what transpired prior to her banishment. However, one thing’s clear. The fair’s contracts with vendors should spell out exactly what’s meant by “reasonable prices” and how much leeway individual vendors, including non-profit fundraisers, can have. The alternative is more cotton-candy market chaos in the future. Unless, of course, officials decide that letting the midway itself set the price of cotton candy and similar items is the fairest way to go.

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