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Paid attendance rises at Sonoma County Fair

Paid attendance at this year's Sonoma County Fair was up 4 percent over last year, although total attendance was down 2 percent, fair manager Tawny Tesconi said.

A total of 314,500 people attended the fair during the 16-day run that ended Sunday. The fair drew 317,000 visitors during last year's 17-day event.

"The overriding tale is that the paid attendance is up 4 percent and that is with a 16-day fair," Tesconi said.

Unpaid attendees include those who received complimentary tickets and kids and seniors on certain promotional days.

Total revenue from concessions was $4.1 million, Tesconi said. Food sales were up 8 percent and alcohol sales up 11 percent.

Horse racing fans wagered $28.6 million, including off-track bets, up 1 percent from last year. This year's fair had two fewer race days.

The fair receives a percentage of the wagers, depending on where bets were placed, and the final take has not yet been reported.

It's not clear yet whether the fair's controversial decision to stop paying overtime to about 600 part-time workers saved any money in the end, since final payroll numbers won't be compiled until the end of the week.

The county Democratic Party sharply criticized that policy last week, saying it was inappropriate to save money on the backs of low-paid workers while continuing a policy of offering free catered lunches, complete with alcoholic beverages, for VIPs. At least two members of the Board of Supervisors have expressed similar doubts.

Tesconi said it will be hard to know how much the overtime change saved, since the fair might have managed workers' hours differently had overtime pay been at stake. She also defended the VIP lunches, which cost the fair about $39,000.


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