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Attendance down at Sonoma County Harvest Fair

  • Wendy Nacol places gourds that she purchased into her van at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa on Monday, October 7, 2013. Gourds and melons from the National Heirloom Exposition, and displayed at this past weekend's Sonoma County Harvest Fair, were sold to the public on Monday morning. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Attendance dropped precipitously at the annual Sonoma County Harvest Fair this weekend following controversial changes intended to save the money-losing event, but organizers vowed to continue the festival again next year.

Fair Manager Tawny Tesconi said the decline in attendance was the natural result of organizers' decision to create a new format for the three-day event, which ended Sunday.

"I think it's really just growing pains," Tesconi said Monday. "It's going to take people time to get used to the experience."

Sonoma County Harvest Fair

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Overall, about 7,400 people attended the fair over the weekend, she said, down from about 20,000 last year.

About 3,200 this year purchased the $50-per-person ticket to the unlimited tasting pavilion, offering wine, food, beer and cider. That was about 1,500 fewer paid attendees than Tesconi and her staff had projected.

Last year, 13,000 paid the $10-per-ticket general admission price. Despite the higher attendance, last year's fair lost about $30,000.

"If we wanted to continue with the old format we had in the past, we would have to find a way to finance that," Tesconi said.

It's too early to tell how this year's fair fared financially, but the tasting pavilion tickets generated about $156,000 and Tesconi is hoping the event at least broke even.

Gone this year were many of the traditional elements of the four-decade-old Harvest Fair, including exhibits of livestock and antique farm machinery. Most child-oriented attractions were removed, and the judging for produce and homemade products such as jams and jellies was folded into the Sonoma County Fair over the summer.

Tesconi said people in the tasting pavilion expressed pleasure at the event, but she acknowledged the howls of protest that accompanied the other changes at the fair. The fair simply had to bow to financial reality.


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