The 92-year history of Shorty's Hot Dog Stand
The attached audio is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.
If you’ve attended the South Dakota State Fair at any time in the past 92 years, there’s at least a chance that you bought some pop and some fair food at Shorty’s Hot Dog Stand. 2021 was the last year for Shorty’s, but what remains is a truly unique story about how places and people in history are connected to living, breathing people carrying on a family tradition. It's the story of how a State Fair hot dog stand became a focus for five generations of a far-flung family.
Shorty’s actual name was Clarence Harold. Family members say that he was originally from Minneapolis but that he’d moved to Chicago sometime early in his life. He was five foot two and so, of course, “Shorty.” In the 1920s, Shorty had a business selling custom imprinted pencils and other things with either personal or business names, slogans, etc. He traveled around selling his wares and saw an opportunity at the South Dakota State Fair.
When he first arrived in Huron, he worked out of a hotel. He realized that he needed to go to where the people were so in 1927, he built a small little vendor shack on the fairgrounds. He was taking orders for his custom-printed stuff of course but he was also selling pop and gum and cigarettes.
Shorty eventually started selling hot dogs and other fair food but his grandkids recall that he had various shacks in various locations on the fairgrounds over the years. In 1963 he built the hot dog stand that still stands today. Shorty died in 1966 and one of his two daughters took it over in ’67. She came out to South Dakota from the north side of Chicago with six young kids. She intended to run it for one season and sell it. She had no idea that she was starting over a half-century of family tradition.
The six children had children of their own but continued coming to South Dakota every year from wherever they were. The extended family has been using the South Dakota State Fair as a reunion location for 54 years, showing up Huron to work at the stand and re-connect.
2021 was a bittersweet reunion for the family. They've decided to sell the stand. The younger generations aren't interested in continuing the State Fair rendezvous tradition, but the family agrees they'll continue to get together after 2021. Somewhere.
See more photos and connect on the Shorty's Hot Dogs Facebook page.