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Officials Expect Attendance To Pick Up At Fair As Most Rides Open

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Officials announced that the 2005 N.C. State Fair, on its first day, saw a drop of more than 9,000 in attendance from last year's opening day.

About 52,000 people attended the fair on Friday. More than 61,000 attended last year's opening day. Officials had announced early Saturday morning that the opening day attendance had dropped more than 15,000, but officials said Saturday afternoon that tickets sold at Gates 8 and 9 were not included in initial reports due to a computer error.

Despite the 2005 opening day numbers, state officials remained optimistic that the crowds would pick as more and more rides opened.

Just 61 of the 111 rides had met the state's stringent standards as of Friday morning, said Tom Chambers, assistant bureau chief with the Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau of the state Department of Labor. Wade Shows had 82 rides operating at noon Friday, 11 short.

As of 6 p.m. Saturday, 101 of the 111 rides had met state standards, officials said. They said they hoped to have seven more rides opened shortly.

"We're not going to certify anything that's not safe, and this is not a bad show. It's a good show. They just had some tough times with standards that we've set," chief inspector Jonathan Brooks said.

North Carolina has some of the most stringent ride safety rules in the nation, operating under a "100 percent" rule. The rule requires all rides to comply completely with manufacturer's specifications to pass inspection.

Ron Weber, a spokesman for Wade Shows, said 100 percent "was a very high standard to meet."

"Imagine if every week you had a car inspection and there was a button missing off your radio and you couldn't drive your car," he said.

When asked if Wade Shows should have been better prepared one day before the fair, Weber said: "We were shooting for the first day of the show, not the day before."

Despite the inspection problems at this year's State Fair, Wade Shows appears to have a good safety record. The Department of Labor in Michigan and Oklahoma, where Wade operates a number of fairs, said Wade had a good safety track-record. Also, according to a group that tracks ride accidents, riders during fairs handled by Wade Shows suffered only minor injuries in dozens of reports dating back more than a decade. However, not all states require reporting.

Last year, state inspectors signed off on 98 percent of the Midway rides the night before opening day. North Carolina is one of 25 states that uses government employees to inspect rides. Some states, including Texas, Minnesota and Oregon, use private insurance companies to inspect rides.

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