By Jessica Vander Velde, St.Peterburg Time
TAMPA — Grab your coat and step right up — the Florida State Fair is here. Today, the midway will light up, and country songs will blare as a man with a microphone promises to guess your weight.
There are 90 rides and more than 100 food stands, but expect to see fewer games this year because of the economy, fair spokeswoman Denise Shreaves said.
The games are hurting because visitors consider them optional at the fair, where stomach-turning rides, greasy food and free entertainment rule.
“They look at games as a luxury,” Shreaves said.
On Wednesday, colorful flags frantically flapped overhead as the clanking of metal rang out. Workers hurriedly set up stands in hopes that Floridians will brave the cold today.
Food stands with airbrushed pictures of gooey pizza, cotton candy and caramel apples sit in neat rows. This week, visitors can try the now infamous chocolate-dipped bacon.
Nicole Douglas tested the microphone on her “Racing Waters” ride, one of the games still at the fair. Players shoot a stream of water at a target to win a fuzzy prize.
Douglas is concerned that the troubled economy and cool weather could hurt her profits, but she’s optimistic that post-inaguaration feelings of hope will persuade visitors to empty their pockets.
Over at the long-standing goldfish game, where players toss balls into fish bowls to win live goldfish, worker Bill Hill is braced for a downturn.
“We’re hoping not,” he said. But at the Manatee County Fair a few weeks ago, turnout wasn’t good, he said.
“You never know, though,” Hill said.
Fair spokeswoman Shreaves said it’s hard to predict attendance, but to battle the Fair Authority’s rising costs, the weekend admission has increased $2 for adults to $12 and $1 for children to $6.
Still, Shreaves points out that a trip to a movie theater, including popcorn and soda, could cost as much as a day at the fair.
She highlighted several new attractions this year. At one exhibit, a diver will swim with sharks as another teaches the crowd about the toothy creatures.
For those who love to ride, there are 10 new ones this year, including a 98-foot-tall swing, like the traditional spinning swings, but much higher.
“It’s like being on the top of a roller coaster,” Shreaves said.