Fair counts changes as positive

TURLOCK — Only the petting zoo animals were left in the Stanislaus County Fair barns Sunday, but that didn't keep visitors away from the final day of the 10-day run.

Despite the troubled economy, fair Chief Executive Officer Tony Leo said he was happy. Attendance numbers won't be final until later this week, but Leo said they likely will be as strong as last year. In 2008, the fair clocked 232,843 visitors.

Recent changes have helped the fair increase its audience, Leo said.

"A few years ago, we didn't have Christian acts," he said. This year, the popular Newsboys took the stage.

The fair also brings in a children's act each year. This year, it was Nat and Alex Wolff from Nickelodeon's "Naked Brothers" show. Dora the Explorer and her buddy Diego also made an appearance.

Pop acts Huey Lewis and the News and Rick Springfield drew big crowds, as did more traditional country performers Josh Turner and Gretchen Wilson. For the third year, concerts were free with admission.

Two other big changes this year seemed to go over well: the free shuttle service and cutting off beer sales an hour earlier.

Fair spokeswoman Pennie Rorex said its board will decide whether to bring back the park-and-ride service next year, but all indications are that it will return.

"As of (Saturday) night, we had bused in 10,000 people," Rorex said. Among them was Don Damas, who said he visited the fair twice because of the service and will be back if the shuttle is available next year.

As for the alcohol sales, a few fairgoers could be heard grumbling that they couldn't get a beer after nightly concerts let out about 10 p.m. But Rorex and Leo said the decision to end sales earlier was part of the fair's effort to maintain its family-friendly image.

"Anyone who wanted a beer after that time, we directed them to one of the local taverns," Rorex said.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said the earlier alcohol sales cutoff and mild temperatures contributed to a mostly problem-free security operation.

Representatives of nonprofit groups, which operate alcohol sales at the fair, met with fair officials early on and were notified of the change in policy. A $1 increase in prices — fairgoers paid $4 for a beer this year — was intended to offset any drop in revenue from the lost hour.

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.