WRAL.com at the State Fair

Where Do We Grow Now?

Posted October 21, 2007

Before the beginning of the State Fair, Steve Troxler and other state officials said they would like to get a million people in attendance. That was not going to happen this year unless almost a quarter-million people stampeded the gates Sunday. As of Saturday, total attendance is 760,178. Attendance will easily break last year and the six-year average, and there's even a chance that the all-time attendance record of 846,724 (set in 2000) will be broken.

Earlier this week, I was sitting in the Grandstand, having a boiled-peanut lunch and thinking about what a State Fair with a million people in it would look like. Then I started thinking about how a million people would fit in the fairgrounds over the course of the fair. It's an interesting exercise.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that 30 percent of attendees come in the first weekend (the first three days), 30 percent come in the last weekend, and 40 percent come during the week. That means if you're aiming for a million attendees then you need 300,000 the first weekend (100,000 a day), 400,000 during the week (80,000 a day), and 300,000 on the last weekend (150,000 a day).

The first problem with this is weekend volume. I was at the fair last year on the second Saturday when there were 145,000 people in attendance. There were places you literally couldn't move. There were walkways where it took half-an-hour to walk a block. It wasn't workable. It was crowded to the point that it was dysfunctional, which means that even if Saturday and Sunday had equal volume (which they wouldn't) you would have massive traffic jams.

There would be two ways to address this: increasing weekday attendance and extending use of the Fairgrounds.

Increasing Weekday Attendance

There's only so far you can increase weekday attendance because there's only so many people who can get off work, out of school, etc. But the fair could offer more incentives. The Dixie Classic Fair (which set is own attendance record for this year) offers an early-bird special -- admission on weekdays between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. is $3. There's also a School Day, where students are admitted free until 2 p.m. (1 chaperon per six kids is also admitted free.)

This past Wednesday had the highest attendance in over 10 years and I think that might have had something to do with Paula Deen as well as Military Appreciation Day; moving popular concerts to the weekdays might shift attendance a certain extent. (Especially when you have sellouts as early as we did this year.) Maybe an unlimited ride day on Tuesday or Wednesday?

Extending Fairgrounds Use

There are still a few parts of the Fairgrounds that don't receive a lot of use. Heading west from Heritage Circle (into the Smokey-the-Bear area) you'll find several exhibits but not many people. A few years ago there were several Native American kiosks up there, with food and dancing and crafts, and I went several times. There were never many people there when I went because it wasn't publicized and there was very little sign-age promoting it. You would have to be careful what routes you'd establish into that area (tons of traffic going over the footbridge?) but there's got to be more you can do up there.

What else? There's probably more that can be done up at the top of the hill. Maybe the folk festival tent could be moved to the south side of Dorton Arena -- in the middle of the area it would be accessible from all sides and would not be competing with lots of loud rides.

With the way the Triangle is growing, there's no doubt in my mind that there will be eventually a million people interested in going to the fair. The problem will be getting them all to fit!


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  • cuteboyd Oct 23, 2007

    I went to the fair on both Sundays it was there. I usually go twice and had a great time. It was crowded I think because of the weather. I parked for free at Carter-Finley. I was happy that there were no games scheduled (football or hockey). That in itself made traffic better. My one complaint is that there were two many strollers bumping into people. Get a babysitter and leave the babies at home. They don't know what's going on anyway. Most that I saw were sleeping. Looking forward to going again next year.

  • ladyblue Oct 23, 2007

    Having a moderate problems with having to be on feet too long is why I chose not to go this year. I am glad I chose wisely not to attend. I think the ones making the suggestions are sensible for the convenience of the crowds but IMO if everyone just went to central areas of their choice they probably couldn't make as much money. Like everything else commercial, it's about the bucks. They must be doing something right with their set up to break those reacords. It may be possible the weather had something to do with the record but I can not imagine being stuck witih a million people in so small an area.

  • NCTeacher Oct 23, 2007

    We went on Saturday night for the derby and it was miserable. I love going to the fair, but I hate having to jam up with 100's people all trying to get down the same narrow stretch of walkway. If they moved the derby to the week I think they would get more attendance then.

  • Justin T. Oct 23, 2007

    We need a dentistry booth at the fair based on my observations.

    Maybe some sort of ball toss or sporting element could be employed and the grand prize would be a crown or a bridge, with smaller awards being fillings and cleanings.

  • no more - no less Oct 23, 2007

    We need more exhibits about all things North Carollina, more contests, less rides, less games, less food vendors, no other vendors unless selling handmade items, better traffic flow patterns, the waterfall running, and above all bring back Amusements of America to run the fair.

    I wonder if all the food vendors could be placed in a centeral location. This would make it easier to a family where everyone likes something different to eat. All kiddie rides together, all large rides together, all games together, all exhibits togehter, etc. This way you could just go to the area(s) you are interested in.

  • 68_polara Oct 23, 2007

    If they really want to increase attendance the only safe way would be to move the fair to a location in which much MUCH more land could be acquired. Access from 540, 40, or some other large highway would be a must. It's way to over crowded now to a point that people are going to be trampled at some point.

  • For-Better-Or-Worse Oct 22, 2007

    It is the State Fair not Welfare, if you want free entertainment then go to the park. You can not go to any venue and expect it to be free. The Zoo in Ashboro, Carowinds, Bush Gardens and many other public places cost.

    Of course it is about profit, no vender is out there to just have a good time and pass out hotdogs.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 22, 2007

    I have not been to the fair in many years. I heard from a lot of people that went this year that they did not stay very long because it was just too crowded. Seems like extending the schedule or spreading it out over more space if it is available up there might make some sense. There ought to be free parking for everyone. Getting gouged 10 dollars to park is outrageous.

  • Silver loves Rebel Red puppies Oct 22, 2007

    I parked about two blocks from Gate 2, paid 10 dollars to park. The food prices seemed about the same as last year, which means something to eat and drink is about 10 dollars per person. I went on Wednesday afternoon and it wasn't too, too crowded, but as time went on, it got MUCH worse. I don't like conditions where you can barely move, and can't really see the exhibits. One thing I can say was that folk were very nice about waiting for me to snap a picture. I had a good time, but during the day during the week is the only time I'll ever go again.

  • swisher1 Oct 22, 2007

    we went to the fair twice this year, once on the first Sunday and then again yesterday - yesterday the traffic was much less - we had absolutely NO problem getting in and getting a really close parking spot. It was crowded and yes, we were shoving our way around - the lines were long for the rides, which kept us from riding anything - which was good for our pocketbook but bad for the kids.....they need more space - why can't they just move the fair - build a bigger fair ground.....better, closer parking, specific places for midway rides, concessions and games - I love the fair and have been going all of my life, but it has gotten out of hand, but I think this year, it had a lot to do with the weather being so nice.......hot, but nice! The prices are outrageous, and you might as well figure on dropping about $200 when you go, so it's just a matter on whether you want to go or not - do you want to take your kids and build memories of those types of things or not.