Attendance at the Saratoga County Fair appeared to be down this year, and organizers are speculating the economy and the weather are to blame.
William Schwerd, director of the county’s Cooperative Extension Office, has been involved in the county fair for more than 30 years. He said he’s rarely seen it as slow as some days were this year. The fair ended its run on Sunday night.
“I think the hot weather hurt us some days, and I think the economy had an impact on people’s decisions not to come,” Schwerd said outside the Conservation Building Monday afternoon.
“We’re hearing from our people that a lot of fairgoers from outside of the county did not come here this time,” he said. “Some people like to visit two or three county fairs each summer, but it looks like they skipped us. Maybe they will just go to their local fair this year.”
Temperatures last week ranged from the mid-80s to 91 degrees for the week, according to the National Weather Service in Albany.
Schwerd said hot and humid weather earlier in the week followed by heavy rain, thunder and lightning Friday night and through the weekend likely kept some people away from the fairgrounds.
“[Sunday] afternoon and evening were a washout,” he said. “I think people watched the forecast and decided not to come. By 5 o’clock, we had the worst weather I’ve ever seen.”
Fair Manager Richard Rowland said it will be more than a month before total income from the fair will be known.
“Amusements of America gives us a flat fee and then a percentage of the collections from rides,” he said of the midway company. “I know they were down but we won’t know by how much until the end of August.”
He said the number of parents sending their kids to the fair through town recreation programs doubled this year, apparently because they were not attending as families.
“It’s a real bargain and people are looking for bargains. Kids get in [through the town program] for $2 and for another $5 they can ride the rides from noon to 2,” Rowland said.
Hundreds of Saratoga County campers participated in the program this year.
Schwerd said once inside the fair gates, many people continued to look for inexpensive pastimes.
“I know the shooting sports exhibit where people pay to play did well, but at $1 or $2 a play, it’s cheap entertainment,” he said.
Players were allowed to shoot guns or launch arrows at targets in the exhibition building.
“Our snack bar seemed to do well, too,” he said. “I noticed the other concessions people were being very nice to their customers. Sometimes they can grumble a bit.”
He said on busy days some concession stand workers appear less than accommodating to their customers.
The Saratoga County Fair is the first fair of the summer in the greater Capital Region.
Other areas of the state have already had county fairs, including Monroe County where the fair is held in Henrietta, outside of Rochester.
Fran Tepper is executive director of the Monroe Fair and Recreation Association, which ran the fair from July 9-13 this year.
She said attendance appeared to be about the same as last year, but people were not spending as much as they did in the past.
“We saw a lot more people coming in after supper rather than buying their food here,” she said Monday. “We also saw quite a few picnic baskets. In the past I think people saw buying food at the fair as part of the experience.”
Rowland said he, too, saw more coolers being brought into the fair by visitors this year.
“Our food vendors pay a flat fee, so we won’t know if their sales were down significantly,” he said.
Mary Fairley, a 4-H educator who has also worked at the Saratoga County fair many years, said the 4-H Building and exhibit areas were very busy last week.
“We had a lot of interactive exhibits for the kids to try,” she said.
Schwerd said the free activities may have been attractive for parents with young children at the fair.
“We’re all looking at the cost of fuel and worrying about keeping our houses warm next winter,” he said. “The economy is on everybody’s mind.”