Walworth County Fair numbers remain strong
ELKHORN Attendance was down and revenue is expected to be lower than in previous years, but officials are calling the 2009 Walworth County Fair a success.
This year’s fair attendance was 152,156, a 2.19 percent decrease from last year’s 155,555. The largest recorded fair attendance was 194,057 in 1999.
Attendance for the fair’s final three days was 31,374 on Saturday; 39,077 on Sunday and 27,002 on Monday.
Among the reasons fair attendance was lower than expected are the economy and how late in September the Labor Day holiday was, fair board Vice President Bob Handel said.
Since the 1800s, the event has started on the Wednesday before Labor Day and finished on the holiday. So when Labor Day falls as late in September as it did this year, children are back in school and can’t spend as much time on the fairgrounds, Handel said.
“Another issue is there are so many opportunities to do things,” Handel added. “We’re not the only game in town anymore, so that affects us somewhat.”
Still, good weather came through and the crowd that did show up had a good time, fair board President Ed Sokolowski said.
“We had the lighter crowd on Friday, but we seemed to be slowly making it up as we got closer to the end of the fair,” Sokolowski said.
Handel said the fair could be an expensive event for bigger families, but there are great ways to save up and still have fun at the fairgrounds.
“It could still be very inexpensive if you bring a picnic lunch, you can take the kids to Kiddieland and the adventure barn, you can do a lot of things that don’t cost a whole lot,” Handel said.
For the $9 general admission, Sokolowski said fairgoers got their money’s worth.
“There are so many activities, so many things to do and see, that I feel it’s a bargain,” he added.
The Walworth County Fair, heading to its 161th anniversary in 2010, is the second oldest county fair in Wisconsin and one of the largest attendance-wise.
“People enjoy it, and for the most part, we hear a lot of great comments,” Handel said. “People are pretty happy when it comes to the fair.”
This year’s fair had a parking lot conveniently located in downtown Elkhorn and a shuttle bus taking folks from the lot to the fair. But the efforts were not as effective as planned due to poor advertising of the benefit, Handel said.
“I don’t know that we have communicated that as well as we could have,” he added.
Next year, Handel said, he will make it one of his priorities to enhance marketing of the downtown parking lot to alleviate traffic and parking at the fairgrounds.
Sokolowski said he would like to further explore the idea of a two-day tractor pull, a pilot program this year that drew a huge crowd to the grounds. Thursday’s attendance, 19,182, was the third highest for a Thursday in fair history.
“We had never done that. We’d always have entertainment on Thursday night,” he said. “A lot of them (fairgoers) even asked if we were going to continue to do that next year.
“With the crowd and the attendance that we had on Thursday, we would like to look at that.”
During the fair, several fairgoers were stopped and asked their likes and dislikes of the Walworth County Fair as part of an economic impact survey conducted by UW-Whitewater and the UW Extension.
Russ Kashian, professor of economics at UW-Whitewater and economic development specialist with the UW Extension, headed the research and plans to have it completed by Oct. 1.
Kashian said his team is working to understand spending patterns at the Walworth County Fair. From there, officials can come up with ways to increase revenue.
One of the questions officials originally meant to include in the survey was whether selling beer at the fair would be a viable option for the fair, a controversial move intended to increase revenue.
Walworth County Fair spokesperson Sue Pruessing said the beer tent idea came from a consultant hired by the board to analyze how to solve key financial issues fair officials face. Board officials also looked at corporate sponsorships, but that alternative has been difficult to explore.
Other options would be increasing admission and parking fees.
Sokolowski said board officials would rather hold hearing sessions outside the fair to ask community members what they think about the idea, as opposed to surveying fairgoers who could be from a different part of the state.
“We want to ask the people who make this fair,” he added.
In the fall, fair board members will host hearing sessions and focus groups with community members.
Pruessing has said every board has at one point looked at the idea of serving beer at the fair, and so far they have decided to keep the event dry.
But there is nothing keeping officials from overruling previous decisions and serving alcohol at the fairgrounds, she said.
“Many people think we can’t have beer because it’s something on our deed,” Pruessing added. “That’s not true, it’s just folklore.”