Florida State Fair

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By LAURA FRAZIER | The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA – Tracy Wetter shaded her eyes from the bright sunlight this morning and tried to track her daughters’ whereabouts through the windows of a funhouse at the Florida State Fair.

“There they are,” she laughed, pointing to a window with jailhouse bars where daughters Joelle, 8, Jessica, 14 and friend Racheal Long, 14, waved and shouted.

News Channel 8 photo by PAUL LAMISON

News Channel 8 photo by PAUL LAMISON

The Bradenton girls had cajoled Wetter into taking them to the fair to see their favorite hometown band in concert. We The Kings – an alternative rock and pop group named for Martha B. King Middle School in Bradenton, where its members met – put on a free concert at noon. Besides, the girls reasoned, tickets handed out last week at their school would get them in the gates for free.

“Then we had to go and spend $60 on armbands, so there you go,” Wetter said. “But … it’s OK because it’s such a beautiful day.”

The mild weather sat well with fair officials, who hoped the burst of sunshine would boost attendance numbers. Those numbers were down about 7 percent from last year before today’s totals are tallied.

Thousands of students and their families were expected to attend the last day of the fair today, designated as free admission day for schools in Pinellas, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties. Student day for Hillsborough County schools was Feb. 6.

Fair officials hope that by the time the gates close around 9 p.m. tonight, attendance will reach close to last year’s total of 491,000.

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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.

Scott Smith hangs stuffed animal prizes at a midway game being set up at the Florida State Fair on Wednesday.

Scott Smith hangs stuffed animal prizes at a midway game being set up at the Florida State Fair on Wednesday.

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.
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