IOW Fair sets attendance record

Published 10:12 am Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Isle of Wight County Fair included a bull-riding competition. SUBMITTED

WINDSOR—A record-breaking 33,732 attended last week’s Isle of Wight County Fair.

The previous record was 29,500 set in 2010.

The attendance pushed the fair into the category of “a large fair” as defined by the Virginia Association of Fairs. The category requires at least 30,001 attendees.

The five-day fair also included three record-breaking days for attendance, said Fair Coordinator Darlene Keyt. They included Wednesday’s Seafood Fest attended by 751, Thursday Night’s Carload Night, which drew 3,324; and Sunday, when 7,149 attended. Friday saw 5,624 and Saturday, 16,884 attended the fair, which included a concert by country legend Tracy Lawrence.

“Everything came together this year — great leadership, an experienced fair committee, community support, county support, top-of-the-line national entertainment and one of the most important elements — perfect weather,” Keyt said.

She believes weekend attendance could’ve been even better.

Scheduled closures of the Hampton Road Bridge Tunnel and the James River Bridge are believed to have hurt attendance, she said. “We had some challenges with VDOT closures,” Keyt said. “We did not realize that would impact us. We had one employee who (lives) within miles of the Monitor Merrimac (Bridge Tunnel). It took her four hours to get to her position at the fair.”

Cloudy skies also may have hurt attendance on Sunday.

“We had hoped our numbers would be a little higher,” Keyt said. “It was really overcast, but it never rained at the fairgrounds. We had sprinkling at best.”

The fair had been one of the fastest growing mid-size fairs in the state until last year’s fair, which was rained out on opening night due to a thunderstorm and heavy rain, she said. It rained three out of four days, capping attendance at 15,000.

Attendance has climbed since 2008, when 12,500 visited the fair, followed by 21,500 in 2009 and 29,500 in 2010.

The event qualifying as “a large fair” is significant for the fair association’s annual conference in January.

“We will compete with a different level of folks,” Keyt said.

There’s no prize money, just bragging rights. Last year, as a medium-size fair, Isle of Wight placed second, one point behind the winner.

Key said she expects continued growth for the fair.

“We will focus on quality,” she said. “That will be the name of the game. Striving for higher quality vendors, more competitions for people.”