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State fair's attraction not working so well this year

State fair's attraction not working so well this year

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Associated Press

DALLAS -- It's the rain, stupid. Or maybe it's the economy.

Either way, State Fair of Texas organizers have grudgingly accepted that business will be off for the nation's largest fair in 2009. Still, they're clinging to a big-bang theory of sorts, hoping that a smashing final weekend will help close the gap.

"There will be a lot of making up this weekend, assuming the weather report is right," said fair spokeswoman Nancy Wiley.

That weather report is perfect: sunny with highs in the 70s on Saturday and Sunday. The football stars are aligning, too.

Although Wiley said officials prefer to have Saturday's big Texas-Oklahoma college rivalry game in its normal spot earlier in the 24-day event, the combination of 92,000 football fans and the final weekend could lead to crowds that Fair Park, east of downtown Dallas, has rarely seen.

Plus, the Dallas Cowboys happen to have their only open date of the season Sunday, the fair finale.

"We'll make it up a lot," said Robin Brooks, who has helped run The Fudge Co. booth for nearly 30 years. "Really, the last weekend we always do great anyway. And the sun's supposed to shine. People will come out."

Brooks said revenue is off about 50 percent, about twice what Wiley estimates is the average among dozens of food and merchandise vendors.

Officials stopped taking attendance about a decade ago, Wiley said. Instead, they use the sales of coupons, which can be used on the 70 to 75 amusement rides and in roughly 200 food booths.

The record for 50-cent coupon sales is around $30 million, and it's hard to know how far short the total will fall because the last weekend could be so big, Wiley said.

Weather is the first reason for slow sales. It rained 10 of the first 15 days in October, according to the National Weather Service, and overcast skies ruled most of the days it didn't rain.

Wiley said the wet weather made it difficult to determine whether the down economy played a role. Brooks, who didn't have specific figures for her fudge booth, blamed both factors.

Not all vendors are down, though. Monte Lindquist said Wednesday that his Rocky Mountain Leather booth was running about the same as last year, his first at the Texas fair.

While declining to discuss numbers, Lindquist figured a strong closing weekend would leave him in great shape. Regardless, he plans to return next year from his home base in the Denver suburb of Westminster, Colo.

"We decided to do the state fair because we've done so well at the Fort Worth Stock Show and the Houston Stock Show, and it's the largest in the state," Lindquist said while customers perused leather wallets and purses. "So, play the numbers."

Wiley said vendors can't be suffering too badly because they keep coming back. Space always sells out the summer before the fair, she said, and waiting lists remain long.

"We don't expect that to change," Wiley said. "Those that have been around here for a while know that these things happen every decade or so."

As for the fair's bottom line, Wiley said a slow year can lead officials to re-examine capital projects. For instance, organizers want to turn Fair Park into a year-round midway in 2012. Slow years could force them to wait, but it's too early to tell.

"We've had a long run of very good fairs, like five years or so," Wiley said. "That helps."

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