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Orange County

Profits, Attendance Fall at Longer County Fair

August 04, 2003|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Fair ended its 21-day run Sunday, the longest in the event's history. Fair officials say the four extra days helped thin crowds, making for a more pleasurable experience for fairgoers. But they acknowledged that attendance fell short of expectations and that profits dropped significantly, from $3 million last year to breaking even this year.

"This year was an investment year in the fair," said fair general manager Becky Bailey-Findley. "You're hopeful that next year more people will come based on the experience they had this year."

Through 20 days, attendance was 827,496, an average of 41,375 per day. Last year, total attendance for 17 days was 898,197, an average of 52,835 a day. As of 3 p.m. Sunday, there had been 22,052 patrons for the final day.

Bailey-Findley attributed the decline to several factors -- consumers' fears about the economy and competition from the Anaheim Angels and the U.S. Open Surfing event in Huntington Beach.

But many vendors blamed two highly publicized accidents on fair rides during the opening weekend. The first accident occurred when the net system failed on the high-intensity Adrenaline Drop, causing a 30-year-old woman, Aidyl Sofia-Gonzalez, to land hard on the ground and suffer unspecified injuries. The same day Sofia-Gonzalez was hurt, an aspiring actress was injured on the ride next to the Adrenaline Drop.

"There's a lot of factors for business being down, but two major accidents on the same day, opening weekend, that hurts," said Mamadou Diop, who runs One Love Reggae Shop. "It scares everybody."

The accidents didn't scare Kristen and Mike Llorente of Huntington Beach away, but they did change their focus. "It made me more suspicious," said Mike Llorente, 42. "We went to a lot more exhibits this year and ... we didn't go on any rides."

Vendors were hoping the longer run would mean higher profits. But it didn't quite work out that way for Leon Hutchinson, owner of Brellas' n Fans.

"The extra week did nothing for us; we were off by a third compared to last year," he said. "The fair may have made more money. But for us, it was just more time we had to be here."

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