Early numbers point to successful fair

Orange County Fairgrounds officials announced Monday that this summer's fair closed with its second-highest attendance ever.

The annual fair, whose slogan this year was "Come & Get It," saw 1,374,633 attendees — about 17,000 more than last year though not enough to break the all-time record set in 2011 of nearly 1.4 million.

The fair, held on 150 acres in Costa Mesa, ran for 23 days between July 12 and Sunday.

Interim fairgrounds Chief Executive Doug Lofstrom said the results show a continuing growth pattern for the fair and added that success can't be attributed to "just any one thing."

He credited promotions that helped boost attendance, such as We Care Wednesdays, which allowed fairgoers who donated — depending on the Wednesday — canned food, books, clothing or school supplies free fair admission. About 82,000 participated in that effort.

"Our promotions are still very, very popular and very strong with the fairgoers," Lofstrom said.

He acknowledged that good weather helped too.

"This year, we had a continuation of absolutely gorgeous fair weather," Lofstrom said. "When you're walking around the fairgrounds and it's 72, and last year you're walking around and it's 95-plus, that's a significant change."

Fairgrounds officials said food and beverage sales this year totaled to $16.7 million, up 4% compared to last year, and alcohol sales hit $5.8 million, up 8%.

Ticket sales totaled about $6.6 million, a nearly 6% increase from last year, and parking brought in $2.9 million.

Fairgrounds spokeswoman Robin Wachner said the attendance and sales numbers are unaudited and subject to change.

Earlier this year, the fairgrounds excavated most of the Pacific Amphitheatre's outer berm. The project freed up about 3 acres of space and effectively took away the lawn seating, leaving only the hard seating around the stage.

Despite the smaller venue capacity, sales during the concert season remained strong, Lofstrom said.

About 161,000 tickets were sold last year, he said, and nearly 153,00 were sold this year. Eleven concerts sold out.

"So that means that the inventory that was not available was absorbed into the fixed seating. I think that's incredible," Lofstrom said. "It's another strong showing at the Pacific Amphitheatre, and I think the product, pricing and value are resonating with the customer."

Lofstrom said there are still challenges, namely parking and traffic.

"That's for us to work through and see how we can enhance our operation," he said.

On the food side, Chicken Charlie's — famous for its deep-fried concoctions — used 7,500 gallons of vegetable oil to fry about 24,000 bacon-wrapped pickles. The business also sold about 100,000 deep-fried Oreos and 25,000 balls of deep-fried cookie dough.

Over at Centennial Farm, 16 piglets were born during the fair, as were two lambs and two pygmy goat kids. Dr. Entomo's Palace of Exotic Wonders added 40 cave cockroaches to its bug family.

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