BANGOR, Maine — Mike Dyer won’t know for several days whether the final numbers will meet his goal, but the Bass Park director was more than pleased with opening-weekend numbers at the Bangor State Fair, which started its 10-day run on Friday.
A return to a single admission price, decent weather and crowd-pleasing attractions made for 15,118 paid visitors Saturday, a number Dyer said was better than any three days’ paid attendance combined last year.
The attendance number was likely more than 16,000 considering promotional tickets, Dyer added.
“That’s why everybody’s smiling,” he said in his office Sunday afternoon.
Sunday drew 8,468 more visitors for a three-day total of 26,077.
This year the fair is returning to a pay-one-price structure last used in 1993, when 90,000 people paid a $7 daily fee for unlimited rides and shows.
The 2009 version of the pay-one-price admission is $10 per person.
Last year’s admission charge was $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $3 for children ages 12 and younger, but those rates did not include rides.
“Everything has been overwhelmingly positive,” Dyer said. “That’s not to say there weren’t a few people who had their problems. The vendors and people running the games on the midway are very upbeat.”
Dyer’s attendance goal for the fair, which closes Aug. 8, is 65,000 to 70,000 people, which would be a significant improvement over last year’s attendance figure of 42,000.
Even 59,000 people would be a bonus for the city of Bangor and Fiesta Shows, the company that operates the midway.
“At that point they will both have the income to equal five-year averages for both of us,” Dyer said. “In this economy, that’s not a bad goal to hit.”
Dyer isn’t sure what the single-day attendance records are, but in 1988, when 114,000 people paid $5 to attend an 11-day fair, the weekends sometimes hit around 18,000 people.
The low attendance numbers for last year’s fair were likely due to high gasoline prices and rainy weather, Dyer said.
“If we get a couple of days of solid rain, that’s going to impact my [attendance] hopes,” he said. “By the same token, because [the admission] is such a deal, it might drive that 15,000 number up next weekend if we lose a couple of days during the week [due to rain].”
Saturday’s crowd apparently helped push visitors to the agricultural tents, which saw an increase in attendance.
The neighborhood streets and local businesses around Bass Park also were crowded with cars Saturday because the grass infield of the grandstand was too wet to use as a parking lot. Cars were parked there Sunday.
In addition to the crowded side streets, the parking garage at Hollywood Slots, across Main Street from Bass Park, also was busy at times. Dyer said fair officials were recommending people park there as an option.
Hollywood Slots, which usually offers free parking during the week, is charging $5 during the fair for anyone who does not have a reservation for the on-site hotel or a players’ card for the casino. The money is being set aside for two charities, although an operator who answered the phone at the facility Sunday did not know which charities.
Bangor Fire Lt. Troy Lare said Saturday and Sunday brought typical fair injuries such as scabbed knees and dizziness, but nothing too serious.
Sunday didn’t bring the same crush of people that Saturday did, but lines were still long in the afternoon for rides such as the Zipper, the Thunderbolt and the Sea Dragon.
Dyer said the Tigers of India show, featuring Bengal tigers from the Marcan Tiger Preserve in Holmes County, Fla., has been among the most popular events of the fair so far. More than an hour before the tigers’ Sunday evening show, dozens of people waited in the bleachers or lined the fences around the cage to watch the big cats doze and pace.
Glenburn residents Don Dube and Jennifer Preston’s 3-year-old daughter Oceanna was one of the many children glued to her spot as she stared into the cage.
“She’s mesmerized,” Preston said. “She loves animals. We have a house full of animals. We’re animal lovers.”
Dube and Preston said they liked the new all-inclusive admission price, although they would have visited the fair regardless of the change.
“Even if I don’t go on any rides I won’t feel as bad as some of the years where I’ve had to pay a lot of money and didn’t really get much out of it,” Dube said. “It usually ended up raining when we were here.
The 10 bucks was well worth [Oceanna] being entertained whether we do any rides or not.”