Attendance is flat, the racing handle is down and the Sonoma County Fair is moving into the home stretch hoping a huge concert stage erected at the rodeo arena will draw fresh crowds.

"We've got some strong concerts ahead of us," said Fair Manager Tawny Tesconi, who on Tuesday watched last-minute preparations at the Chris Beck Arena for the evening's Martina McBride performance.

McBride was kicking off the first of four straight nights of fair concerts. The 17-day fair runs through Sunday.

As of last Sunday, paid attendance was 97,123, a decrease of less than 1 percent from a year ago, said Tesconi.

Food revenue rose 1 percent to $1.5 million.

However, racing revenue fell 10 percent to $21 million. Tesconi said gambling revenues in general have declined in a sluggish economy.

"It's not just happening to the Sonoma County Fair and it's not just happening to horse racing," she said.

This is the second year when the fair has run for 17 days spread over three weeks. The fair is closed Mondays, and racing takes place Wednesday through Sunday.

Before the current schedule, the fair ran for 13 straight days.

Tesconi noted the change provided two benefits -- more days of horse racing and an extra weekend for busy working parents to bring families to the fair.

The fair's food and retail vendors have mixed views on the change in schedule. Many say the extra days haven't meant extra income.

"The three weeks has not increased our business," said Jim Wyllie. He and his wife Annemarie show Bernina and other brand sewing machines at the fair.

The Wyllies, who own the Parkside Sewing Centre in Santa Rosa, have been coming to the fair for 32 years. His fair business is good, Jim Wyllie said, but he knows many out-of-town vendors don't like incurring extra costs for food and lodging under the new schedule.

Ellene Grace, another Santa Rosan who is selling peanut brittle at the fair for her seventh year, said business is good again this year.

"I think the senior days have been the busiest," said Grace, who uses her grandmother's recipe. She likes the current schedule because on Mondays she is able to make more peanut brittle.

At the booth of Forestville-based Mom's Apple Pies, worker Midori Arakawa said the booth seems to sell the same amount of pies as two years ago, but now that total is spread over an extra week. And in the air conditioned back room of his "Pasta King" food booth, owner Art Ibleto shakes his head when he thinks back over four decades to the days when the the racing grandstand was packed, the outside streets were one big traffic jam and his customers were stacked so thick that other fairgoers could hardly get around them.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the fair's paid and unpaid attendance often approached or exceeded 400,000.

Last year, Ibleto's fair business "was not very good at all," and this year appears to be down further.

Still, Ibleto, known for cooking benefit dinners around the county, at age 86 plans to keep coming back to the fair. When his customers hear him talk of retirement, he said, "they get mad at me."