Sonoma County Fair predicts strong numbers for 16-day run

  • Chef Steven DeVincenzi sells his wares at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa, Wednesday Aug. 7, 2013 inside the Grace Pavillion. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Steven DeVincenzi is on pace to sell 30 percent fewer Kitchen Craft cookware sets at the Sonoma County Fair this year, compared with last year.

The reason is not fewer fairgoers — attendance this year is expected to exceed last year, fair officials say. But new attractions and promotions at the fair draw visitors who are not necessarily in the market to buy frying pans, sauce pots or ultra-sharp knives.

"Sales are not as good as last year," said DeVincenzi, who performs cooking demonstrations at the fair inside Grace Pavilion. "A lot of people are going to the concerts, and they walk right past."

While some vendors are reporting sluggish sales, overall fair revenue remains steady, fair manager Tawny Tesconi said. A star-studded concert series featuring acts like Hunter Hayes and Bridgit Mendler, and discount days, such as Wednesday's admission and unlimited rides for $20, are drawing big numbers.

"It is looking like we are going to definitely meet last year's attendance if not pass it," Tesconi said.

Last year's attendance was 317,000. Tesconi declined to reveal attendance and revenue figures through Wednesday, saying the 16-day total would be available on Monday. However, she said food and beverage sales, a key barometer of overall revenue, is up 4 percent from last year.

The fair, which ends Sunday, lasts 16 days, one fewer than last year. Horse racing, the biggest revenue earner, is down to 13 days from 15 due to a shrinking racehorse population, Tesconi said.

Still, the fair is expected to generate at least $6.5 million, she said, representing the county's take from admissions, vendor space rental and its cut of concession sales and racing bets.

"Numbers wise, I think this will be one of our strongest fairs based on the success of our race days, the concert series and discount days," Tesconi said. "Fair sponsorship is up."

The fair's total economic impact on the community is much larger. A 2010 state study found the Sonoma County Fair generates $76 million in spending activity. The annual summer rite also creates about 600 temporary jobs.

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