Bringing back the Alameda County Fair for a shorter run later in the calendar when daylight is dwindling, kids are in school and the weather can be a question mark -- all in the midst of a lingering pandemic -- had to be a difficult decision for the powers that be in the Pleasanton Avenue offices.
The move paid off.
Recapping key statistics from the fall 2021 fair, officials reported that 100,400 people attended the showcase during its special nine-day run between Oct. 22-31.
That's pretty positive turnout for any public event in California during these cautious times, let alone one occurring off-schedule without the benefit of its typical duration and momentum in summer.
Unfortunately, I was not among the attendees to enjoy the 2021 fair. The timing just didn't work out amid a hectic personal and professional period leading up to Halloween. (In fact, the only day that would've worked for us was Oct. 24, that fateful first Sunday when the atmospheric river storm forced the fair to cancel on a coveted weekend day.)
It was too bad because I always have a fun time at the Pleasanton fair: walking the grounds, checking out the agricultural displays, watching the shows, throwing away money on carnival games and perusing the exhibit halls, especially the collectibles cases.
Oh, and the fare. The grilled meals, the beer, the desserts.
I'm a sucker for a funnel cake, well-fried with strawberries in sauce and powdered sugar -- no whipped cream or ice cream on top; I don't want any damp dairy sogging the dish. My wife and I did one of the fairgrounds' Grab-N-Stay food nights earlier this year just so I could satisfy that craving.
Although disappointed we couldn't make it out there this fall, I'm glad so many people took advantage of the opportunity in what seemed like a fairly safe and conscientious environment.
This of course was the first fair since 2019, which had a normal 18-day run with longer hours in early summer. The 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated health restrictions for public gatherings, while there was no 2021 summer fair because key fairgrounds facilities were being used for COVID-19 vaccinations and food distribution.
As we all continue to navigate this persistent COVID-19 world, it's important for people to savor favored activities when they're comfortable doing so under the protocols in place -- just like it's OK to keep some distance or create memories at home if they don't feel that way.
Re-envisioning the fair as an autumn event for 2021 presented such an occasion for many in and around the Tri-Valley, but I also think there were plenty who couldn't find the time during the school year or who were hesitant to go for public health reasons.
I kept that context in mind as I reviewed the postmortem press release (as we call them) that fair officials sent out on Nov. 9 with the final tallies and comments.
I took it to heart when fair marketing and communications manager Tiffany Cadrette said, "We were so pleased with how the community came out to support the fair this year."
Sure, the actual turnout was less than a quarter of what it was at the last full fair in 2019, but the numbers were always going to be down: This 2021 event was already designed as a moderately scaled-back version, and the fall is just not the summer.
Many families, couples and friends had fun, and many food vendors, ride operators, entertainers and other fair workers were back at their trade -- safely. That's what should matter most in these times.
And not all of the numbers were below pace. The fair reported 19,731 corn dogs were consumed at this year's fair, a higher rate than the 35,000 eaten in twice as many days and longer operating hours in 2019.
The 2021 Junior Livestock Auction raised $791,460.59; two years ago the total was $716,391.
The nightly concerts were popular as well, featuring the type of eclectic lineup fairgoers come to expect. The photos we published from the Night Ranger concert on Oct. 23 showed a full house of people rocking along to "Sister Christian" and other favorites.
I also got a kick out of how the national drama of Smash Mouth's apparent dissolution after a crazy concert appearance in New York in early October impacted our fair. The Bay Area band had to be replaced just before their Pleasanton fair date with another '90s group, Spin Doctors.
The fall-themed activities seemed like a great touch: trick-or-treating, pumpkin-carving, Halloween movies on the green, Dia de los Muertos celebration and more.
Those autumn ties appear to be one-off, though.
Cadrette confirmed that plans are in the works to return the Alameda County Fair to the familiar summertime format next year, with a theme of "Road to Summer" between June 17 and July 10, 2022.
I hope to see you there.
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Pleasanton Weekly since February 2017. His "What a Week" column runs on the first and third Fridays of the month.