Attendance dropped at San Diego County Fair this year, but people stayed longer and spent more

Lyndsay Preza has been coming to the San Diego County Fair for 14 years with her fiancé. The Fallbrook resident also used to come with her grandparents.

So he was delighted to see the exhibition return this summer after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

“It’s nostalgic,” Preza said over a Bloody Mary with her mother on Sunday. “It’s fun, it’s a tradition. It’s nice to be back.”

One of San Diego’s favorite traditions will come to an end on Monday. The 21-day exhibition lasted six days shorter than in 2019, and daily attendance was down from what it was before the onset of COVID-19. (In 2021, the 22nd Ward Agricultural Association hosted a scaled-down event called HomeGrownFun, without the middle and fewer other attractions.)

But people stayed longer and spent more at the fair this year, said Jennifer Hellman, fair spokeswoman.

“It’s so awesome. It’s so much fun to have everyone back … everyone’s in a really good mood, I can tell you that,” Hellman said.

People ride the Tilt-A-Whirl at the San Diego County Fair.

(Ariana Drehsler/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

This year attendance rounded to a daily average of 46,000, down 19% from 56,700 in 2019.

Two days before the close of the fair, the total attendance was 848,146. In 2019, the total attendance reached 1,531,199 over 27 days.

This year’s numbers met officials’ goals, which had been set lower than in 2019, in part because of supply chain issues nationwide and staff shortages, Hellman said.

“We were still a little bit uncertain about the pandemic, with the staff shortages and the supply shortages and all that stuff,” Hellman said. “We didn’t know what we could handle.”

It was difficult for fair officials to get enough paper to print daily programs and maps, brochures and tickets, Hellman said. Several show suppliers had labor shortages, so things like ribbons, trophies and buckles used for show awards took longer than usual to obtain.

And this year only about 1,000 people worked at the fair, compared to more than 2,400 in 2019.

“Everybody is working a lot harder,” Hellman said. “We just had to do things smarter.”

The Big Top Swinger at the San Diego County Fair

The Big Top Swinger at the San Diego County Fair.

(Ariana Drehsler/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

To make do with the smaller staff, fair officials outsourced some services, including planning and medical services, Hellman said.

Hellman also noted that far fewer free trade show tickets were given out this year, and the discount sales shifted from in-person sales at grocery stores to online discount codes.

While participation is down, fair spending has reached new heights. In 2019, there was one day when concession spending exceeded $1 million. This year, there have been at least four days where that milestone has been reached, according to Hellman.

“I really think people missed it,” Hellman said. “I really think people were missing … the things that feel normal about their family.”

On Sunday, hundreds of people lined up at the fair’s gates before they opened. By noon, Interstate 5 North was lined with cars queuing to get into parking lots.

People walk at the San Diego County Fair

The ticket line at the Ferris wheel.

(Ariana Drehsler/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Upon entering the front gates, guests were greeted with the smell of smoky turkey legs roasting in the sun and kettle corn popping. The fair’s main avenue was lined with food vendors boasting fried and sweet treats galore, including bacon-wrapped chicken, giant cinnamon rolls, fried Oreos, funnel cakes, chili waffle fries, fried frog legs and Krispy Kreme ice cream sandwiches.

Families carried children and strollers, young students gathered in small groups and couples walked hand in hand.

Fairgoers said they came for the atmosphere, perfect San Diego weather, an array of food and drink, and time to spend with family and friends.

Mira Mesa resident Jeanette Alvarado has been coming to the fair for more than 10 summers, even driving down from Imperial Valley when she lived there.

“We have ours (in Imperial Valley), but this one is much bigger,” said Alvarado, who came to the fair with her boyfriend, Kevin Herrera.

The food offerings were a big draw for Alvarado and others. one of her favorites is the corn dog. She and Herrera have a tradition of taking photos in the photo booth. On Sunday morning, they drank a Blue Moon drink and a hard orange passion fruit kombucha while listening to a band on the Paddock stage.

“I feel like I have a part of my summer comeback,” Alvarado said.

In the middle of the San Diego County Fair

Midway games at the San Diego County Fair.

(Ariana Drehsler/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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Attendance dropped at San Diego County Fair this year, but people stayed longer and spent more Source link Attendance dropped at San Diego County Fair this year, but people stayed longer and spent more

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