State Fair: Paradise is not lost at this parking lot


The Minnesota State Fair is many things to many people: Some brace themselves for the onslaught of more than 1.5 million visitors descending on their neighborhood. Others embrace those 12 days of crowds and noises and lights and smells.

And then there are those who see the fair as an opportunity, and they seize it.

Tom Stinar is in the latter camp. His parents own an apartment building a block from the fair’s Snelling entrance. Initially, the Stinars’ neighbors rented the apartment parking space and charged fair-goers to park for the day. But the St. Anthony Park family quickly realized their earning potential, ditched the middlemen and began running the short-term parking business themselves. Stinar’s parents may own the rental property, but he and his buddies do all the work and pocket the cash.

“It’s a real moneymaker,” says 15-year-old Stinar, who charges fair-goers $15 during the week, $20 on weekends. (The fair, in contrast, charges $11 for all-day parking, but that can mean waiting in long lines with no guarantee of a parking space.)

“People are desperate and will pay almost anything for a spot that’s a block from the fair,” Stinar says, recalling the time a woman scrambled to find the money for what she thought was a $50 parking space. In the three years they’ve manned the lot, they’ve been stiffed only once, he says. All in all, their customers are polite and respectful and satisfied enough to return the next year. “Most people are very nice,” he says. “We even have some repeat customers.”

Their workday begins between 8 and 9 a.m., and by the lunch hour, they’ve reached their 30-car limit. (With the constant coming and going, however, they’ve taken in as many 50 vehicles in a day.) On weekends, the lot fills up in an hour. When that happens, Stinar and his friends kick back and shoot the breeze until dark. “It’s very fun. We camp out for the whole day with lawn chairs and coolers,” he says, laughing. “We even have a TV!”

Working 12-hour days for nearly two consecutive weeks might not appeal to everyone, but for Stinar and friends, it’s easy money. Aside from a cursory onceover with the lawnmower, the job requires no prep work. Customer satisfaction (and Stinar’s profit) depends on how efficiently the space is used and how easy the owners’ cars are to access. “We have the system down,” Stinar says. “It’s pretty much down to a science.”

The hunt for the perfect summer job may be over.