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Chilly weather keeps visitors from Florida State Fair, vendors say

Thousands show up on Monday for the last day of the Florida State Fair, where a number of vendors said they noticed a falloff in attendance and sales this year because of the weather. The fair’s marketing director said it had an impact.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Thousands show up on Monday for the last day of the Florida State Fair, where a number of vendors said they noticed a falloff in attendance and sales this year because of the weather. The fair’s marketing director said it had an impact.

TAMPA — Anita Faircloth sat on the front porch of the Cracker Country General Store at the Florida State Fair on Monday, putting the finishing touches on a corn-shuck doll.

It's Faircloth's fifth year selling handmade dolls and scarves to fairgoers. But this year, she spent more time creating merchandise than selling it.

As the fair entered its last day Monday, vendors said business had been slow until weather improved over the weekend. One vendor said it was the worst attendance she had seen in 24 years.

The fair, which started Feb. 4, was plagued by cold, wind and occasional rain, with highs in the 50s and 60s.

Official attendance numbers haven't been released yet, said Rip Stalvey, director of marketing for the fair, but he acknowledged this year was a challenge.

"We are an outdoor event, and when you have good weather, you do good," Stalvey said. "When you have bad weather, it can impact you."

Henry Towner said business was slow for him at Henry's Kettle Korn. He sold more in the last two days of good weather than he had in the nine previous days, he said.

"I don't blame people because I wouldn't want to be out here," he said. "Especially in Florida, if it's not sunny, I'm not going."

Diane Jefferson has been working for Sunshine Concessions for 24 years, selling strawberry products such as crepes, kabobs and shortcakes.

"Worst year yet," she said. "Everyone out here says that."

Usually, the fair is a bigger event for her employer than the Florida Strawberry Festival. But if temperatures rise in time for the March festival, she thinks this year will buck the trend.

Nearly two weeks of inclement weather did not dampen everyone's spirits. Cindie and Bob Etienne, who dressed in period costumes at their Cracker Country booth Heart Felt Creations, said they were satisfied with their first year at the fair.

The Etiennes have done historical re-enactments of felt making and linen weaving in New York and at the Los Angeles County Fair. They said that even with the bad weather, business in Florida had been comparable.

"For us, it's been excellent," Bob Etienne said.

And for fairgoers who waited until the weather improved to venture onto the midway, Monday was just another day of junk food, rides and crowds.

Ten-year-old Isabella Aretz had come to the fair a day earlier for the rides. She returned Monday for the rest of the experience.

She held her hand over her nose while waiting for her younger brother to milk a cow and reminisced about her favorite part.

"The deep-fried Oreo," she said.

Hilary Lehman can be reached at hlehman@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

Chilly weather keeps visitors from Florida State Fair, vendors say 02/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 1:29am]
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