Rain, economy plague state fair

Posted Aug. 04, 2008, at 12 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine&nbsp- The Bangor State Fair closed with a bang Sunday as heavy thunderstorms and rain chased away crowds for the last day of the annual summer event. In fact, the rain that plagued the fair during stretches of its 10-day run may have helped cause a drop in attendance this summer.

The 159th edition of the fair, which opened Friday, July 25, could have seen around a 10 percent drop in attendance, Bass Park Director Mike Dyer estimated Sunday afternoon. Final numbers weren’ t available.

“We know we’ re going to be down. It’ s just a matter of how far we’ re going to be down,” Dyer said.

“We’ ve seen a slight decline over the last three years,” he said. “It’ s not necessarily unique to Bangor, but obviously, that’ s of no solace to us.”

Last year officials estimated a drop of 5 percent from the previous year and nearly 8 percent when compared with a five-year average of 63,000 attendees.

In addition to rainy weather, the overall problems of a struggling economy, such as high gas prices, likely played a part in keeping people away. Dyer is fairly certain, however, the higher admission costs weren’ t a factor.

Admission went up this year from $6 to $7 for adults and $4 to $5 for seniors. Admission for children ages 12 and younger held at $3. Dyer said he didn’ t hear of any complaints, and in fact many visitors liked the fact that the fair’ s presale Super Pass package could be used on any day of the fair. In previous years the package was good only for weekdays.

The pass was sponsored by the Bangor Daily News.

The configuration of the midway was changed this year to make one big circle with fewer aisles. Dyer said that might have resulted in fewer reports of lost children (and parents).

It was also one of the quieter years in terms of crime, he added.

There was some good news, Dyer said, as the fair had a strong Wristband Day with around 5,500 people taking advantage of the deal for unlimited rides last week. Organizers also were pleased with the attendance at live shows set in front of the grandstand.

The occasional boom of thunder could be heard above the thumping music Sunday afternoon as remnants of the storm passed. Dyer said some of the bigger rides closed down several times when lightning was spotted. Everything was up and running by 3 p.m., however, and visitors were still trickling through the gates.

The final Sunday of the fair, for which guests pay just $1 admission and $1 for mechanical rides, has been a big numbers day for the last four years with an average of about 8,400 people that day.

“It’ s obvious that we’ re not going to do anywhere near that number today,” Dyer said Sunday afternoon. “On a 50,000-something person gate, if we’ re going to be down 4,000 or 5,000, we’ re going to be down 10 percent at least. At this point I’ d take 10 percent.”

Sunday’ s rain didn’ t drive away everyone, however. William Farrar of Bangor and his 7-year-old son, Trey, arrived at the fair for its noon opening and stayed through the bad weather.

“It was pouring,” Farrar said as the sky started to clear. “We’ re gonna hang out a little while longer.”

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