Fair closes with record numbers

Despite the ongoing recession, the San Diego County Fair hit the top of the charts with record attendance to the 2009 “Music Mania.” More than 1.27 million visitors attended the fair during its 22-day run from June 13 to July 5 - breaking the previous record set in 2007 of 1.26 million.

“We worked very hard to get people in,” said Tim Fennell, fairgrounds general manager. “But I think people early on had a good time, and your best advertising is word-of-mouth.”

The most popular day was July 3, when 88,087 people passed through the gates, making it the eighth-largest day in the fair’s history.

Numerous discounted ticket deals helped draw in visitors, including the Best Pass Ever. Almost 10,000 people bought the $22 pass, good for all 22 days of the fair. State workers and unemployed individuals received two free tickets for Monday, June 29, and Two Dollar Tuesday, the first Tuesday of the fair, was also very successful, Fennell said.

Once inside, visitors did not hold back spending on food and rides.

Several vendors reported huge increases in sales this year, many more than 40 percent. One of the most popular vendors, Chicken Charlie, reported a 72 percent increase from last year. On the busiest day alone, food sales rang up $886,000.

“A lot of food vendors were pleasantly surprised by the numbers,” Fennell said. “I think they were anticipating a down year.”

Sensational food items were popular with the crowds - 28,000 deep-fried Oreos, 20,000 pieces of chocolate-covered bacon and 12,000 Mexican funnel cakes were sold.

Ride ticket sales were also strong this year. Thrill-seekers spent $6.5 million on rides in the Midway and children’s zone, a 1 percent increase from last year.

The fair thrived amid discussions about its uncertain future. Fair employees collected more than 80,000 comment cards showing support or opposition to the governor’s proposal to sell the property to raise money for the state.