BROOKSVILLE — Staffers at the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show, which ended its nine-day run Saturday, still are crunching numbers, but say attendance was "down a little bit" this year.
"We had great weekends," said manager Sandra Nicholson. "During the weekdays, it was down."
She estimated 24,000 visitors, compared to about 25,000 last year, attributing the shortfall to the economy, the price of gasoline and kids in school.
"We wish we could have (the fair) on spring break, but spring break is all over the place," Nicholson said.
The dates are determined by the availability of the midway concessionaire, which comes to Hernando County after the Miami-Dade County Fair.
Attendance at the fair's junior market livestock sale was good, Nicholson said, and "prices were up a little bit."
Official prices from the 2011 sale were not available for comparison. This year's prices included: $2.16 a pound average for 40 steers, with $3.25 a pound for the grand champion and $2.80 a pound for the reserve grand champion; $2.70 a pound average for 48 market hogs, with $3.10 a pound for the champ and $3.25 for the reserve; $269 average for the top three pens-of-three meat rabbits, $250 for the champion pen and $150 for the reserve pen, and $213 average for the top three pens-of-three meat chickens, $150 for champion pen and $200 for the reserve pen.
Generally, comments from fair visitors and vendors were positive, Nicholson said, though she conceded, "There are always people who have issues." Yet, she remembered a fairgoer telling her that the Hernando fair was a "diamond that was unnoticed."
As usual, the demolition derby was the fair's biggest draw, Nicholson said.
"The parking lot was full, and I heard the grandstand was packed," she said.
The operator of Nojoe's Clown Circus told Nicholson that visitors to his venue had come to the fair from Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Sarasota and Winter Haven, particularly for the circus.
As for food vendors, "some of them were ecstatic, and some of them weren't happy," Nicholson said. "My experience is (the latter) didn't have good product."
A new feature — camel rides — did not attract as many people as the owner had anticipated, just as last year the hook-a-fish pond suffered.
"We try to have something different each year," Nicholson said.
Staffers at some of the indoor commercial booths mentioned sparse traffic, and Nicholson said the fair hopes to address those concerns with new and more inviting building facades next year and other activities in the buildings, such as home and farm demonstrations.
Praise came this year for booths in the auditorium, the addition of a shady porch with rocking chairs at the livestock arena building, expanded food service in the barn's Chuck Wagon restaurant and broader tanbark walkways to and through livestock tents.
The fair's board of directors will meet soon to prioritize improvement projects for next year, which Nicholson said could include rental booths inside the arena building, new flooring and modernizing in the auditorium and better signage.
Planning for the 2013 fair, scheduled from April 12 to 20, already is under way.
"Oh, yes," Nicholson said. "I have some contracts signed already."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.