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State Fair battling bad weather, economy for visitors

Posted October 25, 2008

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— The North Carolina State Fair has been battling a one-two punch from bad weather and a struggling economy this year.

Through Friday, attendance was down about 4.5 percent from last year's record crowd, which reached nearly 860,000 by the time the fair closed. This year's attendance got a boost from a new preview day, when 35,215 crossed through the gates.

Cloudy and rainy weather kept crowds down by as much as 20 percent the first weekend of the fair, but attendance jumped with better weather in the middle of the week. Fair officials hope for a similar boost when Saturday's rain gives way to a sunny and mild Sunday.

Vendors said the smaller crowds have cut into their bottom line.

"Business last year was great, so many people, a record-breaking crowd. But there's nobody here at all this year," vendor Taylor Dunlap said.

Although they made it to the fair, some visitors said that economic concerns meant they would spend less money while there.

"We haven't been eating as much as this year," fairgoer Doug Young said. "We brought a few snacks stuffed in the backpack – save some money for ice cream."

Some downturn was expected due to economic conditions, Brian Long, the fair's public-affair director, said. But he pointed out some advantages of smaller crowds – "shorter lines for the rides, shorter lines for the fried foods, and you'll get through the exhibits faster."

Vendors said they have seen the change in people's spending habits firsthand.

Glenn Smith said he normally sells up to 700 of his popular sausage biscuits on a busy day. But this year, people have been buying about half that amount.

"The fair is like a small Vegas," Smith said. "You win some years, and you lose some years."


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