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Yards turn to parking lots at the Eastern Idaho State Fair


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Eleanor Rabbie and her family, like many neighbors, spend the days of the Eastern Idaho State Fair operating makeshift parking lots in their yards. | Eric Grossarth,

BLACKFOOT — As each car approaches, he smiles and holds up a sign reading, “Parking $7.”

That’s how Ralph Schmidt spends his days as the crowds attend the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot. Schmidt and his wife, Viki, bought the house a block away from the fairgrounds about 30 years ago. Like many of their neighbors, they open their yards to parking for a small fee.

“The money is good,” Ralph Schmidt told “We make a few bucks, but it’s the people.”

Schmidt recently retired, and he and his wife spend a majority of the year living in their home in Las Vegas. He says it’s the crowds of the fair that bring him back to fill the lawn with vehicles. Of the thousands of visitors whose cars fill makeshift parking lots, Schmidt says he’s seen people travel from as far as Alaska and Louisiana.

Eleanor Rabbie lives around the corner from the Schmidts and also operates a temporary parking lot in her yard. This year, her daughter, Bev Sullivan, traveled from Alabama to celebrate the fair and help with parking cars.

“It’s a learning process to make sure you get all the cars parked so they can get out,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan and Schmidt said they have gotten to know some of their repeat customers. Sullivan recently got excited when she heard a familiar southern accent when a man from Florida needed a place to park his car.

“There is a lot of good people,” Schmidt said.

The people stopping by have their own personalities, and it’s their kindness that keeps him opening his yard year after year, he said.

Schmidt says the neighbors often help each other park cars in the yards when they need a break from being out in the sun. He said they send people to homes with larger spaces when long pick-up trucks need a place to park.

Schmidt said the extra cash made from operating the parking spaces allows him and his wife do upkeep and minor renovations to their home.

The Eastern Idaho State Fair reported more than 248,000 people attended the annual event in 2018. With large crowds drawn by the food, animals and entertainment, Schmidt and Rabbie plan to stay open through the fair’s end Saturday.

Ralph and Viki Schmidt stand under an umbrella in their yard turned parking lot during the Eastern Idaho State Fair | Eric Grossarth,