South Florida Fair

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Crowds are coming, but vendors say they are spending less
By C. Ron Allen | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

With two days remaining for the South Florida Fair, people are attending the 17-day event despite the stormy economy, fair officials said. “Last year we had some big numbers so anything close to last year or two years ago is a real success story,” said spokesman John Picano. “What we will do is wait until it is all over; but up to this point, we’re having a solid fair.” The South Florida Fair drew 586,550 people in 2007 and more than 590,000 in 2008.

Several of the fair’s commercial and food vendors said fairgoers have been guarded about spending their money. Some midway vendors said revenue has plummeted compared with last year, though none could provide specific numbers. “Maybe they’re coming in, but they’re not spending money,” said Nadine Turner, a cotton candy vendor from Spartanburg, S.C. “Everybody I’ve talked to say business is down,” said Turner, who has been operating a cotton candy and soda booth since 1990. Some said the $15 tickets for general admission and $10 fee for preferred parking are deterrents.

“If you have a family of six people, you’re going to blow $100 before you get in the gate,” said Harry Darlington, a food vendor from New York. He said he is in his 32nd year of state and county fair business. Picano said fair attendees could have saved as much as 38 percent by buying tickets in advance and using the available free parking. “Actually, a family of four, depending on the ages of their children, literally can get in here for $20 with free parking if they planned ahead,” Picano said.

Several vendors said they fared better at smaller fairs last year than at the larger events. “I think that people aren’t traveling as much,” said Priscilla Puckett, a Pennsylvania resident who has been selling roasted peanuts at state fairs for several years. “With the cost of gas last year, it seems people were going to the little neighborhood fairs and not the bigger ones.”

To Viola Fashaw and her sister, Odessa McDonald, the fair has been a family event for more than 40 years.
The sisters and several of their Delray Beach siblings take their children to the event. “I still enjoy it,” said McDonald, adding that she no longer goes on. “Now we look at the shows and we walk and eat.” Said Fashaw: “Not as much, but we’re still spending. We already caught three shows today.”

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