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Orange County

O.C. Fair's 2004 Better Than Fair

Early figures show attendance up nearly 5% over 2003, as cooler weather and big-name acts attract visitors in record numbers.

August 02, 2004|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

After being plagued by steamy weather and two highly publicized accidents a year ago, the Orange County Fair finished its 21-day run Sunday by setting an attendance record.

Fair officials attributed the jump to several factors -- big-name concert acts at the Pacific Amphitheatre, additional parking and temperate weather.

As of Sunday afternoon, this year's attendance was 923,211, up nearly 5% from last year. The record-breaking crowds also brought superior numbers for some vendors.

"It's been a great fair," said Carol Wiltse, who said her charm-bracelet shop doubled its profits over last year. "The concerts have been phenomenal. I wish Jessica Simpson could play every night."

Sergio Garica, who runs a leather shop, said his profits were 25% higher than last year.

"When the fair puts more money into the entertainment, it impacts everybody, including us," Garcia said. "They had country, hip-hop and the old-timers. Variety is a good thing for us vendors."

Over the fair's three-week run, the Pacific Amphitheatre hosted old-time favorites such as Jackson Browne, ZZ Top, John Fogerty, hip-hop band Sugar Ray and country singer Reba McEntire.

Overall concert attendance increased by only about 3,000 over last year, but fair officials said the shows were more integrated into the fair.

"We wanted concerts that appealed to young people and older people," said the fair's general manager, Becky Bailey-Findley. "Perhaps the mix wasn't quite as blended in past years. We were looking for people who not only wanted a good concert experience, but also good fair experience "

After increasing for four consecutive years, last year's attendance dipped 2%, to 881,596. Last year's fair also saw two significant ride accidents, both on the Sunday of opening week: one on the Adrenaline Drop free-fall ride and another on the Booster, a spinning ride. Adrenaline Drop did not return this year.

Bailey-Findley said the hot weather in 2003 was also a factor that kept attendance down.

"It was hot last year, and people really didn't want to be outside," she said. "It never seemed to get too hot this year. The sun was out, but the ocean breeze was blowing. We couldn't have asked for better weather."

Bailey-Findley said it was too early to say whether the fair would turn a profit this year. Last year the fair broke even after making $3 million in 2002. Yet the early signs are positive. As of Saturday night, parking and admission revenue was up 10% over last year.

James O'Malley of Silverado Canyon said he considered going to the Angels baseball game Sunday, but he chose a return trip to the fairgrounds with his two small children. "It's pretty basic -- this place just has a good entertainment value," he said. "It's very well-managed, it's safe, it's cheap and there's a lot to do."

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