Many skip this year's Fair because of the searing heat | July 12, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - July 12, 2013

Many skip this year's Fair because of the searing heat

by Jeb Bing

Searing heat with temperatures above 100 degrees for several days in a row cut attendance at this year's Alameda County Fair to a total of 391,426 visitors, well under last year's record-high 534,577 fair-goers. Besides the heat, a day of rain and a week-long BART strike also drove attendance down at the 101st annual Fair, although opening day attendance of 31,389 was up 2.3% over last year's 30,692.

No doubt adding to the fair's planning dilemma was the sudden departure of long-time CEO Rick Pickering last December, who was hired as the new general manager of the California State Fair, also known as Cal Expo. Pickering was asked to assume those new duties Jan. 2 to deal with planning this summer's Cal Expo, which also has its attendance problems. That fair opens today in Sacramento, running through July 21. Shortly after Pickering left, marketing manager April Mitchell also quit, leaving much of the marketing and public relations planning in the hands of her assistant Angel Moore, whose own experience and talent enabled this year's Fair preparations to move forward.

But it wasn't until late April that the Alameda County Fair board made an offer to Jerome Hoban to fill Pickering's post. He had to wrap up his duties as CEO of the Orange County Fair before coming to Pleasanton, leaving Moore and others on the fair staff to put the finishing touches on the 2013 program.

Even though overall attendance was down, nearly 50,000 watched horse racing at the Fair this year, with 49,691 at the track during the Fair's 17-day run and with the on-track handle up 3%. Renowned horse racing jockey Russell Baze achieved his 12,000th career win at this year's 101st Alameda County Fair, remaining the winning most jockey in North America.

Many events and exhibits saw increases. These included a 10% increase in competitive exhibit entries which totaled 18,764 with 4,937 exhibitors and a 3% hike in animal sales at the junior livestock auction last Sunday for receipts totaling $557,847. Small animal sales brought in $39,649. Other statistics:

* A total of 546 pairs of hands washed at Sudsy's Barn.

* 114 dogs were adopted at Puppy Party Palooza.

* There were 140 acts on four stages for a total of 170 hours of entertainment.

Of the families and enthusiasts from throughout the region, many came to satisfy their annual craving for a signature corn dog or funnel cake and to watch the spectacular fireworks on Friday nights. In the food consumed category, vendors served up 100,336 corn dogs; 44,519 funnel cakes, 8,135 turkey legs; 1,670 deep fried Nutella; 1,845 Krispy Kreme donut burgers; and 2,550 slices of pineapple upside-down cakes.

Volunteers pitched in to help Moore and the other Fair staff, with 984 volunteers contributing 12,000 hours.

The Alameda County Fair originated in 1859 in downtown Oakland as a Floral Fair. The first modern-day Fair in Pleasanton began in 1912, and has been held annually with the exception of the war years. The Fair's racetrack is the oldest one-mile horse racing track in America, dating back to 1858. The sons of Spanish Don Augustin Bernal constructed it, and wealthy horse owners shipped their horses from the East to Pleasanton for training during the winter months.

As the Fair's newest chief executive, Jerome Hoban was on the grounds every day greeting fair-goers and enduring the 100-plus-degree days along with them. "It was an honor to be part of the 17-day celebration that highlighted our communities' accomplishments and heritage," Hoban said. "I can't wait to see what the 2014 Fair brings us."

I agree, but might have added that we're also hoping to see somewhat cooler temperatures when the Fair opens again next June.