Fair attendance off but food sales spike

Food sales appear to be higher than usual this year, Elkhart County 4-H Fair officials said. 

GOSHEN — Fair attendance was slightly less than previous years for several days of the nine-day event but organizers are happy with the numbers nonetheless.

“It was quite obvious the first three days of fair were quite a bit lower due to the extreme heat and the storms on Sunday,” marketing coordinator Kristy Ambrosen said. “We made the decision to close the fairgrounds due to the threatening weather that came in that evening. As the week went on, we saw that our numbers were strong and consistent and we were blessed with fantastic weather.”

A grand total of 183,646 entrants were reported for the entire affair, compared to last year’s 196,131.

“It’s not record-breaking but we did have good attendance this year,” Fair Board President Josh Culp said. “I think those last six days were great days. They wanted to come out and see the 4-H exhibits, have some fair food that only comes around once a year and have some fun.”

Thursday’s Tractor Pulls saw the largest crowd, estimated at 25,351. The tractor pull was estimated to bring in 11,500 to the Grandstand.

“Thursdays tend to be a very strong day,” Ambrosen said. “Our tractor pull starts early in the morning and goes late into the evening hours, and we also had one of our four Wristband Days. It always tends to be a heavily attended day.”

Friday’s rodeo and Saturday’s Fireman Challenge brought in another 10,500 to the stands each day. Friday totals were estimated at 25,175 for the entire fair admission, while Saturday’s were 22,577.

Wednesday Kids’ Day boasted the second largest number of attendees at 25,293. In 2018, the day saw 24,934, but 2017 and 2016 saw 27,1178 and 26,661 respectively.

This year was the first year the fair hosted a special First Friday deal, with $5 gate admission, and organizers hoped it would help bring guests out to a notoriously low-attendance day. First Friday gate admissions were 11,799.

Food sales for the first Friday were up 50 percent over the previous year, which had 8,598 admitted.

“We’ve always looked at the first Friday as a way of trying to attract new crowds,” Ambrosen said. “It’s always seemed a bit slower. So this year we tried the $5 First Friday, $5 admission and $5 food specials. I think honestly our food sales were significantly higher on that Friday even though we saw lower attendance. It helped bring people out even though we were faced with the heat we had on that day. I think we need to try a similar type event again.”

Ambrosen added that while total attendance isn’t in yet, and won’t be until mid-August, as of Friday, food sales were nearly 10 percent higher than in past years.

“If that trend goes through space rental and other areas we gain revenue we will be quite satisfied,” she said.

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