MERCED — Attendance at the 122nd Merced County Fair wasn't quite what it was a year ago, but the community still turned out in droves for the annual five-day event.
The fair saw a 4 percent drop in attendance from 2012, with 68,601 people attending this year. That makes for a difference of 7,052 fairgoers, but Merced County Fair marketing manager Diane Conway said the bulk of the difference was in the free attendees.
"You look at the difference between this year and last year and it's really not that big," Conway said. "We're still very pleased with the turnout and the continued response to the reduced-price tickets.
"There were a few things that made a difference this year. We increased the price of our fair five-packs of tickets from $16 to $20 and didn't sell nearly as many.
"The other big difference was a 5 percent drop in free attendance. We still had a number of free fair opportunities, like our senior citizens' day and our kids' day, but we really tried to limit the number of free tickets we passed out."
Even with fewer people walking the grounds, Conway said the 2013 fair may come out on top fiscally when all the numbers are crunched.
The ideal weather enticed people to stay a little longer than in 2012, and Conway said they took advantage of the concessions while there.
"We don't have all the numbers yet, but it looks like concessions are up this year," Conway said. "This is an area that's been hit by hard times. Things have improved a little, but we really wanted to be able to provide an affordable distraction when we cut the ticket prices to $5 in 2012.
"People frequenting the concessions stands is how we can help make up the difference. Last year, the heat wave had a big impact on the concessions, but this year things look really good."
The Junior Livestock Auction saw an uptick in revenue.
Participants from local FFA and 4-H clubs as well as independent exhibitors sold 576 animals for $513,305. That's a $19,833 increase from 2012.
Conway said the overall reaction to the 2013 Merced County Fair was positive.
Fresh entertainment such as karaoke, the Gascar Crazy Animal Races and the new Vertigo ride were well received. The community was particularly pleased with the Salute to Veterans theme, said Conway.
"I think when we originally announced the theme, some people were suspicious as to how much we'd actually honor the veterans," Conway said.
"When they got out there and saw the video, saw our partnership with the Run for the Fallen and saw that we actually had services set up to help veterans if they needed it, I think people were really pleased," she said.
The following are the top performers in the livestock auction:
2013 Merced County Fair Grand Champions:
Beef: Kohl Bright (Le Grand 4-H), $6 per pound, 1,222 pounds, $7,332
Goat: Macy Oh (Buhach Colony FFA), $10 per pound, 105 pounds, $1,050
Lamb: Johnathan Mello (Gustine FFA), $23 per pound, 140 pounds, $3,220
Hog: Layn Bright (Le Grand 4-H), $15 per pound, 260 pounds, $3,900
2013 Merced County Fair Reserve Grand Champions:
Beef: Michaela Clark (Buhach Colony FFA)
Goat: Carolyn Schiber (Atwater FFA)
Lamb: Sheldon Silva (Los Banos FFA)
Hog: Mellissa Milosky (Merced FFA)