Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - July 16, 2010

Fair's success boosts local economy

We've written before about the economic benefits to Pleasanton of hosting the annual Alameda County Fair. The results are in from the fair's 17-day run that ended last Sunday, with April Mitchell, manager of event sales and marketing for the fair, reporting that more than 418,000 fairgoers decided to "Come Out and Play" at the Pleasanton fairgrounds. Despite a still-sluggish economy and searing heat over one weekend, the fair scored the second highest attendance in 20 years. It amounted to a 19 percent increase over 2008, and just 3 percent less than the 2009. Wherever you went in Pleasanton, there were long lines of fairgoers taking a break to shop downtown, at Stoneridge Shopping Center and many of the neighborhood retail centers. Even restaurants reported a boost in diners who chose more refined dining than the unique and somewhat less healthy food at the fair food booths, which included corn dogs, funnel cakes and even chocolate-covered bacon.

The Alameda County Fair has been rated the "Fastest Growing Fair in America" with a record 22 percent increase in attendance last year, and almost the same again this year. Ranking 41st on the list of the Top 50 North American Fairs, the Alameda County event is one of the largest fairs in California and is the largest event in Alameda County. Right from opening week when fairgoers were attracted by a spectacular fireworks show at the start of the Independence Day weekend (along with a few stings from angry wasps whose ground nest was disturbed), the crowds kept coming, gassing up their cars at local stations and more than usual spending the night in Tri-Valley motels. In the current economy, many regional fairs have experienced challenges and reduced attendance numbers this year, Mitchell said. Consequently, Alameda County Fair officials are extremely pleased with attendance for the 2010 Fair.

Thousands also came out to play the horses, always a special attraction at the fair's racetrack, the oldest one-mile horse racing track in America that dates back to 1858. The sons of Spanish Don Augustin Bernal constructed it, and wealthy horse owners shipped their horses from the east to Pleasanton for training during the winter months. They still do. With Bay Meadows closed and other fairs cutting back on schedules, the fair's racetrack and its satellite racing facility are revenue producers both for the Alameda County Fair, which is self-supporting, and Pleasanton, which shares in sales taxes from the fair. Although the amount wagered at the racetrack was down 10 percent this year— $34,417,963, compared to $38,521,097 in 2009-- Rick Pickering, the fair's CEO, said the wagering was better than expected given this year's economic downturn and other unusual circumstances. The fair ran 12 percent fewer races this year due to the reduction of thoroughbreds in California. Hollywood Park cancelled three days of racing for the same reason. Enthusiasm and daytime television viewing of the World Cup served as another distraction. Overall the Alameda County Fair's decrease in wagers was better than the decrease experienced at Golden Gate Fields' spring race meet.

Also during this year's fair:

Donations to the Alameda County Food Bank totaled more than 5 tons of food.

The average amount paid per animal at the Junior Livestock Auction was up 4 percent for a total of $495,284.

* Total entries at competitive exhibits totaled 16,185, up 2 percent from a year ago.

* The lives of more than 100 dogs that had previously been scheduled to be euthanized were saved in a special adoption program at the fair.

Stephen Chambers, executive director of the Western Fairs Association, reports that California's 76 fairgrounds are a statewide economic engine that is vital to the state at a time of large and growing budget deficits. The Alameda County Fair has a huge economic impact as hundreds of businesses, nonprofit groups, and a wide range of animals from chickens to race horses, collide with thousands of guests to create the always fantastic county fair at Pleasanton. Its success this year is a tribute to Pickering, Mitchell and their team who are already at work planning an even more dynamic fair for 2011.

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