State Fair records third-highest attendance ever

aweigl@newsobserver.comOctober 21, 2012 

  • The 2012 N.C. State Fair, by the numbers •  120,000 : Hush puppies given away free at the House Autry Mills booths •  $89,600 : Money awarded to youth who showed animals in the Junior Livestock Sale of Champions •  213,558: Pounds of canned food collected Oct. 18, the fair’s annual food drive to benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina • 30,583: Red, white and blue ribbons awarded at this year’s fair •  2,700: Pork loins cooked at The N.C. Pork Council’s Pork Chop Shop •  1,200: Trash cans around the fairgrounds •  $3.50 Cost of mums for sale at 8 a.m. Monday at the fair’s flower show area; buy 10 or more for $2.50 each (they sell out quickly so get there early) Andrea Weigl

The N.C. State Fair ended Sunday with attendance over the 11-day stretch near an all-time high, but short of the most recent years. “We can safely say this will be the third-highest attendance fair,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler Sunday night.

Officials announced the total attendance on Monday, with 965,297 walking through the gates over the 11-day period. That is lower than the last two years with 1,009,173 fairgoers in 2011 and a record attendance of 1,091,887 in 2010.

“State fair attendance is a little bit of a roller coaster,” said Brian Long, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, citing those peaks as well as two years since 2000 with attendance at less than 700,000. This was the 143rd fair since 1853.

Sunday’s crowds enjoyed the rides, games and turkey legs under blue skies and 66-degree weather.

Among them were best friends Ashley Drager and Holly Keller, both of Raleigh. They brought Keller’s 2-year-old son, Greyson, to enjoy a Mount Olive pickle, some peanuts and his first ride on a Ferris wheel. “We really come for Al’s fries,” Keller said.

Food of the fried variety was the draw for Lara Madding of Cary.

“I like the fried stuff and the mini-donuts,” said Madding after trying to coax her sons, Eli, 5, and Levi, 3, to get their photo taken with Read-a-roo, UNC-TV’s kangaroo mascot, who introduces children to the joys of reading.

This was the fourth visit to this year’s fair for the Madding family. About his sons, Dan Madding said, “Living in suburbia, they only know what a chicken and a goat look like because of the fair.”

For the fair vendors, it was better for some than others.

Scott Strother, who teamed up with the Girl Scouts of North Carolina to sell deep-fried Girl Scout Cookies, said he didn’t get close to selling out of the 7,000 boxes of Caramel DeLites that he bought before the fair. “People just aren’t spending money,” Strother said.

He did, however, sell out of the deep-fried Thin Mints that he started selling halfway through the fair. Those 5,000 cookies were gone by Saturday morning. “The Thin Mint lovers were ranting and raving about those,” Strother says.

Girl Scout Cookie fans can breathe easy. Strother says he will be back next year.

Sales weren’t down at the North Raleigh Exchange Club booth, which sells bags of peanuts for charity as it has done every year for the last 46 years.

“Sales are going very good this year,” said longtime member Charles Campbell Jr., who noted the group has raised $750,000 over the years for such charitable causes as Safe Child and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Asked if they get sick of peanuts by the fair’s end, Michael Minotti said, “We eat enough for the whole year.”

Not everyone was happy to see the fair’s last day. Evelyn Johnson, who works in the Education Building answering questions on the canning contest, said she enjoys seeing the regular crew of workers during the fair. Now it will be another year before she sees them again.

Johnson said, “It gives you a sad feeling.”

Weigl: 919-829-4848

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