State Fair attendance drops, but revenue rises

Ag Day, Democrat Day buck trend with attendance increases

 A cow gets a pat on the nose at the State Fair in August. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

A cow gets a pat on the nose at the State Fair in August. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Attendance was down, but revenues were up for the State Fair this year.

According to figures released Friday by the Department of Agriculture, attendance fell 8 percent from a year ago for the annual 11-day event at the State Fairgrounds in Springfield, with 369,144 people going through the turnstiles. But sales receipts and tax revenue were nonetheless up a robust 16 percent.

The fair raised $1.6 million in admission and parking revenue, but it was vendors who carried the fair this year, with $1.4 million in sales receipts producing $87,000 in sales taxes contributed to the state, with more perhaps to follow, as vendors have until the end of the year to submit receipts.

 State Fair vendors enjoyed good sales this year, including the obligatory corn dog and lemonade combination. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

State Fair vendors enjoyed good sales this year, including the obligatory corn dog and lemonade combination. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

State officials tried to explain the drop in attendance by reporting that it "was down just 8 percent compared to 2017’s outstanding fair attendance numbers," when more than 400,000 attended. This year's attendance topped 2016, when record floods combined with sweltering heat to keep people away.

The fair ran this year Aug. 9-19.

The biggest single day was Kids Day, the first Saturday of the fair, when 44,209 attended. Agriculture Day and Democrat Day bucked the trends, with Ag Day attendance up almost 5,000 from last year and Democrat Day bringing in 3,423 more people.

Those studying fair attendance for political omens will find that, even in an election year, attendance was down on Governor's Day, with 25,915 in attendance, compared with 29,672 last year and 32,058 in 2016. Democrats drew 28,476 to the fair this year, compared with 25,053 last year and 23,675 in 2016. This year, both Governor's Day and Democrat Day were hot with threats of rain.

The fair sold 51,675 tickets to its marquee grandstand concerts, with Luke Combs the big draw with 11,868 in attendance.

The University of Illinois Regional Economics Applications Laboratory projects that the Illinois State Fair contributes $86 million in business volume to the local economy, including $35 million for wages and salaries and $2.67 million in state sales tax revenue.

"I’ve been attending the Illinois State Fair my entire life," said Ag Director Raymond Poe. "I’ve seen firsthand the number of people this fair puts to work, from inside the fairgrounds to outside the fairgrounds. Not only that, but the people who come to the fair patronize our local restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and other area tourist attractions, which has a direct impact on our local economy."