Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor | Richard A. Ball, Commissioner
Jessica A. Chittenden

September 15, 2008

State Fair closes out a successful 2008 season

The New York State Fair’s 2008 season was one of the most successful ever, with dramatic increases over the previous year in paid attendance and midway revenue, despite a challenging economic climate. Visitors experienced a variety of new attractions, set records at the grandstand, and enjoyed one of the safest Fairs in memory.

Paid attendance at the New York State Fair increased by nearly 5 percent from 2007. It rose from $1,495,376 to $1,569,355 during a year in which high fuel prices and a slumping economy hurt attendance at many fairs throughout the state. Full-price, paid attendance at the gate shot up by nearly 12 percent, from 132,602 people to 148,235 people.

Overall attendance dipped by less than 1 percent this year, despite economic conditions that hurt many other recreation venues. A total of 927,871 people attended this year’s 12-day event.

Attendance at the similarly-sized Erie County Fair, meanwhile, dropped by about 10 percent from 2007. Major theme parks across the country are seeing disappointing attendance numbers this summer, with some off by as much as 3.5 percent. 

“We are extremely pleased with this year’s Fair,” State Fair Director Dan O’Hara said. “Families came and enjoyed the new attractions, the increased emphasis on agriculture and the family-friendly atmosphere we worked to create. They told us they appreciated many of the changes we’ve made. The Midway broke records. The vendors made money. The 2008 Fair was a win for everybody.”

There were no major public safety incidents or accidents at the 2008 Fair, according to New York State Police.

“We had fewer problems and fewer arrests,” said First Sgt. Joann Alberico of the New York State Police. “Everybody stayed on top of things. We were very proactive and we had a very safe fair.”

Vendors and concessionaires also reported a successful year at the Fair.

Total sales by the James E. Strates Shows Midway during the 2008 Fair increased by more than 15 percent from 2007. This year’s fairgoers spent $1,954,217 on ride tickets, games of skill and Midway concessions – up $258,811 from last year.

New York wineries also did well, despite a change of location from a single wine court to two separate wine venues in new locations.

“Things went fantastically well,” said Mike Linehan, who represented Glenora Wine Cellars at the Fair. “Year over year, we were up 27 percent in sales.”

A longtime vendor whose beer and food stand was relocated from Chevy Court and re-established as the Fair Beer Garden near the Coca-Cola Coliseum saw a similar improvement.

 “It was amazing,” said Matt McDowell, co-owner of the Beer Garden – formerly Showtimes - which offered 50 different kinds of beer. “I think it worked out beautifully. I’ve been out here a lot of years and I’ve never seen anything like it. You have your good days and your slow days, but this year it was consistent throughout. People just loved hanging out there. Maybe I’m biased, but I think the Beer Garden was the talk of the Fair.”

The New York Lottery, which also moved to a new fairgrounds location this year, also did better in its new spot than it did last year, raising more money for education than it had raised at any previous Fair.

“The Lottery’s debut at its new location was a success on all fronts,” said Randall Lex, the Lottery’s director of sales and marketing. “Our players told us they liked the new space, and our expanded retail area, which included the popular Quick Draw café, helped push sales during the Fair to nearly $793,000 – a 2 percent increase over last year’s sales record. And, because we regard the Lottery’s commitment to the State Fair as an extension of our mission to raise revenue for education in New York State., we look forward to continuing our partnership with the Fair and coming back to doing it all again next year.”

The lottery’s old building, located just inside the Fairground’s main entrance, was transformed this year into The Pride of New York Marketplace; a country store stocked with nothing but food products and beverages made in New York State.

“It was a terrific success,” said Dave Evans of Nelson Farms, which operated the Marketplace. “Hundreds of times, we heard, ‘This is what the Fair is all about.’ We were trying it for the first time, and next year it’s going to be even bigger and better and we’ll be carrying more products than we did this year.”

New York-produced products were a hit throughout the Fair. In the Horticulture Building, for example, a record 50,966 baked potatoes were sold, a nearly 10 percent increase from last year.

In the Center of Progress Building, the new Vision New York exhibit gave 19 New York firms and organizations an unparalleled opportunity to showcase what they do.

“We had over 9,000 people visit our booth during the 12 days of the show,” said Gary VanCamp, a vice president of Vuzix Corp., a Rochester firm that makes video eyewear. “We are receiving numerous follow-up inquires about our products due to the exposure. I hope there will be room for us next year.”

Meanwhile, at the Mohegan Sun Grandstand, the Fair record books were re-written.

More people attended the Fair’s 2008 concert series than ever before, setting a new record of 97,163 people. That beat the previous record of 88,646 people set in 2006 and eclipsed 2007’s total of 78,445 people by nearly 24 percent.  More detailed information on the 2008 grandstand concert series will be available soon.

On Chevy Court, the largest of the Fair’s free music venues, Homegrown Talent Day drew crowds comparable to national acts. The new event, which showcased six bands from various parts of Upstate New York, pleased fairgoers and regional musicians alike.

“We feel that all the bands that performed on that day deserved to be there, and the response was wonderful,” said Michele Rourke, co-manager of The Blacklites, the Syracuse band that closed out the day-long show. “Many people stopped by to chat with us and they were thrilled that local bands from around the state were taking the big stage.  That's what the New York State Fair is all about....New York!”

In addition to the 2008 Fair’s solid attendance numbers and impressive revenue figures, visitors to this year’s Fair experienced a variety of new attractions and innovations. Some of the most popular included:

* Less congestion and easier pedestrian traffic flow – especially for people with disabilities – due to the re-configuration of the Fair’s wine venues and the re-focusing of the Center of Progress Building.

* An enhanced tourism display in the Center of Progress Building featuring a large replica of the state detailing New York’s 11 tourism regions. The exhibit led to increased interest in tourism information on recreational opportunities throughout the state.

* A variety of new “street performer” entertainment, ranging from trained bears and dog-riding monkeys to high-wire pirates, basketball wizards and a crowd-pleasing mad scientist. More fairgoers visited the Fair’s Infield Amusement Area in 2008 in response to the re-location and expansion of the Fair’s circus to the venue. In addition to the traditional go-kart track in the area, this year’s infield included the circus, pig races, a bungee-jumping attraction and a petting zoo.

* Several new music venues, including a “Homegrown Talent Day” and the “Upstate Unplugged” series on Chevy Court. The Beef Barn Jamboree filled the Beef Cattle Building with old-fashioned country music on several evenings; the Fair’s Gospel Sunday expanded into a Gospel Weekend, and the Emerging Artists Showcase drew young crowds eager to hear up-and-coming performers.

2008 Press Releases