San Diego County Fair keeps the throngs coming

Frederick Schenk
(Courtesy of CaseyGerry law firm)

The theme of this year’s San Diego County Fair was “Oz-some,” inspired by author L. Frank Baum’s “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” character.

In many ways, awesome aptly describes the spectacle staged at the Del Mar Fairgrounds from early June through July 4.

It ran for 27 days, the longest in a history that dates from 1880. It attracted nearly record-breaking crowds. It featured hundreds of rides, games, activities, and food offerings; thousands of entertainers; and dozens of shows and concerts.

On the very down side, a child died and 10 other children became ill from E. coli bacteria believed to have been contracted at the fair’s livestock exhibits, which were shut down June 29 on the advice of health officials.

And, there were the usual headaches associated with traffic.

Board Director Frederick Schenk of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which sponsors the fair, volunteered to discuss this year’s event in a written question-and-answer format.

Schenk, who has been on the board since 2011 and previously served from 2002 to 2006, is the group’s Fair Operations Committee chairman. He served as volunteer president of the board between 2013 to 2016. Schenk is also a longtime partner at CaseyGerry law firm where he focuses his practice on products liability, serious personal injury and asbestos law.

Q. What was the fair’s attendance this year compared to past years?

A. This year’s attendance was one of the highest in the history of the San Diego County Fair, topping 1.5 million visitors for a fourth year in a row, just slightly lower than the number of visitors in 2018.

Q. What was the gross take this year compared to past years?

A. We do not yet have the gross revenue numbers, but will be getting them in the next few weeks. We are still waiting for final ticket sale numbers from Albertsons and Costco. However, we can report that we are expecting revenue in excess of $45 million.

Q. What were the most popular attractions among rides, food, entertainment and other categories?

A. Pink’s sold 6,000 pounds of hot dogs and 7,200 pounds of French fries, while Tasti Chips used 50,000 pounds of California-grown potatoes for their famous golden chips. New this year was Chicken Charlie’s deep-fried creme brulee, which was a big hit along the Midway. The Top 5 rides this year were: The Sky Ride; The Big Wheel; Crazy Mouse; G-Force and Rave Wave.

Each summer, the fairgrounds engages in community service and we are very grateful for the support we receive from staff and the many guests who attend the fair and support our effort. This year, the Care N’ Share Toy Drive collected more than 12,000 stuffed animals for children in need, In addition, the 70th Annual Livestock Auction raised over $482,000 for 4H and FFA youth.

In terms of entertainment, we offered music, comedy, hypnosis and much more on over six stages. In total, we had close to 20,000 entertainers performing at the fair.

This year’s “Oz-some” theme, based on L. Frank Baum’s writings was very popular with both children and adults, capturing everyone’s imagination.

Q. What’s was the traffic situation this year? Did you get many complaints?

A. Traffic last year was made worse due to the Surf Cup soccer tournament held at the Polo Fields (east of the fairgrounds) during the busiest time of the fair season. (The Surf Cup) went on with little traffic planning by those who were in charge of the tournament.

This year, our staff met with various stakeholders, such as Surf Cup, the city of San Diego, State Sen. Tony Atkins’ office, sheriff’s officials and local homeowners, who together were able to help minimize the effects of traffic to the fairgrounds, and much fewer complaints were expressed as a result of this collective effort.

Q. Obviously, this year’s event was marred by the E. coli issues. What is your perspective about what happened? What bearing does that have on future fairs.

A. The staff and volunteers who work at the 22nd District Agricultural Association were all saddened by the loss of life. After learning of the death of Jedidiah King Cabezuela, we joined the entire community in sharing our condolences for the family and friends who lost their loved one, as well as expressing our concern over the adverse symptoms experienced by those individuals who became ill as a result of their exposure to E. Coli bacteria. We continue to work closely with county health officials to assist them in determining where the outbreak occurred.

Q. How would you assess the outlook for the future of the fair?

A. We look forward to welcoming everyone to next summer’s fair. It has been around for close to 140 years serving the diverse communities within the county of San Diego. The staff and volunteers who help create one of the Top 5-ranked fairs in North America are already working on creating a very exciting, educational and entertaining 2020 San Diego County Fair.