Gate receipts drop again at this year’s county fair

Island County Fair officials may be looking at less, again, as they examine the tally at the gate for this year’s county fair.

The four-day fair wrapped up Aug. 21. With the great bulk of the gate receipts already deposited in county coffers, the county now has a total of $78,726.

In 2006, by comparison, gate receipts during the fair totaled $83,642.

Dan Ollis, chairman of the Island County Fair Board, said the rain on fair weekend may have been a factor.

Ollis also said, however, that final attendance and revenue totals had yet not been completed. Final figures would be in hand by today, he said, when he will give an update to county commissioners on this year’s fair. Commissioners will consider a strategic plan for the fair at their staff session today at 2:15 p.m.

“My expectation of the actual gate, once we get to see those numbers, I’m predicting those numbers should be down because of the weather,” Ollis said.

If gate receipts are down in 2007, however, it will also be the fifth year in the past seven years that gate receipts have declined from the previous year.

Gate receipts for the Island County Fair have dropped from prior years in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The Record reviewed county budget records last week to determine the total of gate receipts for this year’s fair. Ollis said last week the final figure may be higher, because more 4-H funds were due.

There looks like good news in concessions and carnival fees, however, as that revenue was above the expected amount and was reported last week at $39,340. Concessions and carnival revenue totaled $35,470 in 2006.

If it weren’t for the weather, perhaps, this year may have been the one to buck the trend of declining dollars from ticket sales. Extra-special attractions this year included an old fair friend not seen for years — the bumper cars — plus entire new fare such as the inaugural offering of Fair University, and big-names such as gardening gurus Ciscoe Morris and Ed Hume, landscaping legends who spoke to large, appreciative crowds.

And unlike last year’s slow-motion start, where rides sat unassembled for what seemed like forever during the fair’s first days, carnival rides were up and ready to go the first day of the fair.

Still, early numbers point to another dip in the roller coaster.

Ollis has been on this ride before. He said the dip wasn’t dramatic, just like it hasn’t been in earlier years. “It doesn’t swing significantly one way or the other. While there is a downward trend, it’s not a huge number,” he said.

“I hate to blame everything on the weather, had that not been a factor, I think we would have been seeing an up year,” Ollis said. “The carnival was better than ever.”

This year also saw some familiar faces on the midway stage while some familiar ones were missing.

Gone was fair fixture Jim Freeman, the Conductor of Fun, and his expertise on stage and behind it. But back were crowd pleasers like The Timebenders, a repeat headliner from last year who took the main stage Friday.

What helped or hurt attendance is another thing.

Ollis said he has had encouraging reviews about The Timebenders, and Danny Vernon’s Elvis show that headlined Sunday.

“I think people really like The Timebenders. I think it was full crowd, they hung out for them,” Ollis said, adding that “the midway was just packed” for Vernon’s show.

Would shaking up the entertainment line-up make a difference on the gate? Ollis wasn’t sure.

“I think people come. And if you got the right entertainment, they stay,” he said.

All considered, attendance is up in election years, Ollis said. They spread out across the fairgrounds after Saturday’s parade. And gate receipts are only a portion of the overall revenue generated by the fair.

Even if the fair gate breaks even with last year’s total — $83,642 — today’s release of revised numbers won’t match the high point in gate revenues in recent years. Total gate receipts were $94,562 in 2001.

Total fair receipts, which include the gate, concessions, camping and other revenues, have held steady in the $190,000 range during the past three years, according to budget documents.

There was a bit of uncertainty about attendance at this year’s event, given the heated dispute between the fair, Island County and the city of Langley over a road easement that had some calling for a boycott of the fair. That came to a peaceful resolution, though, and the show did go on.

“I’m happy with the fair. There were relatively little problems,” Ollis said.

Ollis recalled the week before the fair. He was helping put in drinking fountains, and thought, “Oh, lord, did the road kill us? Will the people show up?”

Then the volunteers came out.

“It’s a whole new world; everybody’s there, everybody is doing their thing. It’s just amazing how the volunteers all come out.

“I’m pretty proud of everyone. I’m excited to be a part of that. It makes the other junk and all the stuff we had going on this year, it puts a smile on my face to see the kids smile,” Ollis said.

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