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For Impulse Shoppers, Fair Offers the Chance to Go Around Merrily

July 15, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Do the words "not sold in any store" send your fingers in search of your wallet?

How about "take advantage of our special offer" or "only if you act now"?

If you said yes, you're faced with an important decision. Either head for the Orange County Fair today through Sunday, or steer clear. It all depends on whether you enjoy that rush of shopper's adrenaline.

Shopping probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the fair. You go for the rides, the contests, the displays, the entertainment, and then you might browse a bit in between. And if something catches your eye, well, sure, why not?

To the fair-goer, it's a casual decision, just another part of the fun. But to the vendors, that impulse buying is the result of a carefully laid plan.

Didn't bring a shopping bag? Even many of the companies that aren't selling anything will be glad to give you one. Don't want to drag those new acquisitions around all day? Some vendors offer to hold your purchases while you enjoy your day at the fair.

If you're the shy type who would just rather discreetly check the price tag first, you're in the wrong place. Human interaction--i.e., salesmanship--is an important part of the process here. Once you ask "How much?" you've started a conversation with someone who will turn out to be very talkative.

Some of the salespeople forgo the one-on-one approach in favor of performing their pitches. Keeping up a steady banter into their hands-free microphones, they put their products through their paces and follow up by explaining about the deal that you can only get here at the fair.

My favorite is the guy who demonstrates the combination spa-waterfall in Commerce Way, between the Flower & Garden Building and the Commerce Building. This guy steps into the water--yes, ladies, he's wearing his trunks--goes under and behind the waterfall, turns the bubbles on and off and tries out each of the massaging jets. Not such a bad job, you say? The gas-fired heater on this thing can't be hooked up at the fair, so this fellow's covered with goose bumps by the end of each demonstration.

The "fair special" on this spa is $8,495 installed, regularly $9,495.

The merchandise selection is hardly comprehensive but if you have ever longed to pulverize, you are in luck. It seems like every other booth in the Commerce Building features some kind of blender, from the mighty stainless-steel Vita-Mix, which can turn anything this side of gravel into dust (or bread, or ice cream), to a variety of hand-held choppers, grinders and whippers.

There are plenty of sewing machines, both traditional and the new overlock models. Home improvements, including pools, siding, rain gutters and patio enclosures, are offered at several booths. So are various cleaning materials, from magnetic window washing devices (cleans both sides at once!) to that chemical that gets off the black gunk that's been on your pots and pans for 20 years. And if your pots and pans are beyond help, you can buy new ones--but remember, these are not sold in any store.

Neither is the $350 Mitsubishi videophone on display at the Pacific Bell booth in the Commerce Building. The picture is sort of fuzzy black and white and it only makes sense if you're calling someone who has one, but it's fun just to take a look.

It would hardly seem like a fair without the many T-shirt booths, offering everything from air-brushed designs to shirts with computerized, personalized portraits.

And the kids will be tugging at your sleeve, asking for bubble wands, various inflatable toys and teddy bears.

Even if you keep your impulses under control for the big stuff, only the strongest can resist the siren-call smells from the food booths. Particular favorites of fair aficionados include the hot cinnamon rolls ($1.50, or $1.75 with nuts), char-broiled corn on the cob ($1.50) and corn dogs and lemonade ($1.50 for either). If you still insist on being sensible, you can visit the salad bar in the Commerce Building ($2 for a bowl, $3 for a plate).

The fair is open from 10 a.m. to midnight, but the buildings close at 11 p.m. Admission is $4 for those 12 and older and $2 for children 6 to 12. Parking is $2. Discounts are available through the Orange County Transit District, the Auto Club of Southern California and with coupons available through numerous store and product promotions. The fairgrounds are at 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa. Call (714) 751-3247 for more information. Sunday is the last day.

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