Local News

Recession, chilly temps don't keep State Fair down

Posted October 17, 2009 11:17 a.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2009 7:14 a.m. EDT

— North Carolina State Fair officials don't think the recession or chillier-than-normal temperatures will keep away visitors – or keep the fair from making a profit.

Thursday and Friday got the fair off to a cool, gray start – light rain one day and a high in the upper 50s both days. The weekend promises to be brighter, but not warmer.

Meanwhile, some viewers have told WRAL that economic difficulties will keep them from going to the fair this year.

However, attendance numbers are telling a more optimistic story for the fair.

More than 39,000 visitors passed through the gates Thursday, and 60,369 did so on Friday. That was the best Friday since 2004 and the fifth best Friday in 20 years.

"After we've been through this economic recession, people have been tight with their money. They stayed home," state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. "This is their opportunity to come out and have fun."

"We expect as long as the weather stays nice through the week, we'll have good attendance," fair spokeswoman Natalie Alford said.

Keeping the attendance numbers up is necessary to keep the fair making a profit, officials said.

In 2008, the State Fair generated $9.7 million and had expenses of $7.1 million, making for a $2.6 million profit.

"It really does run like a business," fair spokesman Brian Long said.

The State Fair makes money off vendor fees and tickets. The midway operator, Powers Great American Midway, pays the fair $5.50 for every fairgoer.

Expenses include $700,000 for security, which covers five hotel rooms for state troopers working long hours.

The profits get plowed back into making the fair better, officials said.

"A lot of that goes back into improvements at the fairgrounds, making it safer, upgrading the facilities," Alford said.

Since 2004, capital projects have included a $1.8 million midway expansion; a new $6 million Expo Center; the $2 million Martin building; and a new $45,000 ticket booth at Gate 9.

Much of the money spent at the fair stays in North Carolina, Alford said. The midway operator is based in Burgaw, N.C., and many of the vendors are Tar Heels selling local products, she said.

Officials hope the improvements and knowledge that they're supporting local businesspeople will keep North Carolinians coming to the State Fair.

"We want to make sure ... we keep a hold of those repeat customers but also open up ourselves to newcomers," Long said. "We have what we believe is a very good product here in North Carolina, and we want to keep it that way."