New vendors at the Central States Fair this year are offering products ranging from Indonesian rain forest marsupials to bees raised in Rapid City.

The marsupials, called sugar gliders, are for sale at the Tropical Attitude Pets booth in the Soule Building on the fairgrounds. Like all marsupials, such as koalas and kangaroos, the females have a pouch in which they raise their young.

The sugar gliders, although not squirrels, can glide like flying squirrels for up to 150 feet, said Tropical Attitude Pets owner Steve Larkin. They have membranes that spread, allowing them to glide from tree to tree.

More importantly, Larkin said, the sugar gliders make great pets because they form strong bonds with their owners. The animals can fit in a pocket and are intelligent, loyal and playful, according to a brochure at Larkin's booth.

A sugar glider, along with a cage and a starter kit including a year's food supply, sells for $425. Larkin recommends buying a second one, because they are very social. Each additional sugar glider costs $250.

The sugar gliders originate from Indonesian or Australian rain forests, although Larkin raises his in Texas.

Larkin said Monday that he has sold about 10 gliders so far, which in a normal economy would not be too good. But he was satisfied with business, which he said has been steady. "If this keeps up, I'll have a good fair."

One satisfied customer was Melissa Graham of Rapid City who bought a 12-week-old sugar glider Sunday night, naming him Cowboy.

"He's the sweetest," Graham said.

This is Larkin's first time as a vendor at the Rapid City fair. He does about 45 fairs and other shows a year.

He is among several new vendors at the fair, which has a total of 104 vendors this year, up from 82 last year. Most of the increase is due to vendors making their first appearance at the fair, according to Pam Teller, vendor coordinator for the fair.

Another new vendor from a distance is Thomas Gagliano of Walker, La., with his La Cajun Connection food stand just across from the Lions Club building. Gagliano offers alligator on a stick, alligator sausage, alligator "wings," gumbo, red beans and rice, boudin sausages, funnel cakes and fried Oreos.

The gator meat is from an alligator farm in Louisiana, he said.

Gagliano said business had been "decent" so far.

He also sold Cajun food at the Sturgis rally, where his business was down.

"I lost my tail at the rally," Gagliano said.

Another new vendor is the Waxed Hands & Roses booth, owned and operated by Gary and Marie Porn, next to the carnival midway on the way to the grandstand. The Porns travel year round selling wax figurines and wax molds of customers' hands. They have baseballs and footballs with your favorite team's insignia that you hold while they dip your hand into a "bathwater warm" liquid wax to make the mold.

This is the Porns' first time at the Central States Fair.

"It's good every couple of years to change your route," said Gary Porn. "With the economy, you try different things, different shows. We love the travel. We love to see the U.S."

A homegrown new vendor is Jerry Owens of ADR Beekeeping of Rapid City, whose booth is set up just south of the Horticulture Building on the edge of Kiddie Land.

Owens is selling bees and honey at his stand. But his mission is to get more people raising bees as a hobby.

"I'm here to create competition, in a sense," he said.

"We're losing bees," he explained. "They pollinate the food chain." Losing bees could be a worse ecological disaster than global warming, Owens said.

"There's nothing greener than a bee," he said.

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He is also selling kits to set up home bee hives, including a set of bees and the frames. The starter kit costs about $350. A beekeeper's suit costs about $70.

Owens will come out to your property to see whether it's suitable for a hive and he'll help extract the honey.

He also is organizing a beekeepers club and getting interested people signed up for classes he plans to teach this fall.

"I've had phenomenal interest," he said. As of Monday afternoon, he had 30 people signed up.

Owens offers Italian bees, which he said are docile, produce lots of honey and handle winter well in South Dakota.

Owens said many people have the misconception that they have been stung by bees, when, in this area, at least, most stings come from yellow jackets, a type of wasp. Most bees are not aggressive, he said.

Another first-time fair vendor from relatively close to home is Playland Rainbow Play Systems, which has a playground set up on the northwest part of the fairgrounds near the La Crosse Street admission gate.

Ryan Tschetter, who represents the Sioux Falls sales office of the Brookings-based company, said he had sold one playground set and had a lot of interest from people thinking about buying a set for their kids next spring.

The playground area is getting plenty of use from kids using the swings and climbing on the equipment.

There is one requirement, as posted by a sign: "Parents must be accompanied by a child."

For more information on vendors at the fair, call the fair office at 355-3861.

Contact Steve Miller at 394-8415 or steve.miller@rapidcityjournal.com.

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