Out of the gate, attendance at the 2013 Lake County Fair was like a Wall Street rally, with excited investors waiting to see how high the peak would reach.
"We started out strong; we were feeling good," said Sheri Vyfvinkel, the Lake County Fair Association's general manager. But then came Friday, July 26, with an all-day rain and more severe weather at night that washed away any hope of setting records.
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"That's where you sit back and go, 'Well, you can't help that,'" she added.
A cold, damp Saturday combined for a one-two punch to limit attendance for the five-day event to 83,486, down 8.8 percent from last year.
That was the lowest total attendance reported in the five years the fair has been held at new facilities at Peterson and Midlothian roads in Grayslake. Gate revenues were down 18 percent, though a dollar amount was not released.
"We feel we did all we could to put on the best fair possible," Vyfvinkel said Wednesday. "Beyond that, it's out of our control.
How dismal was Friday? Reported attendance of 7,904 was down 56 percent compared with 18,046 last year, and substantially below the average at the new home of about 17,000. The forecast of severe storms and lightning led fair officials to cancel the truck and tractor pull, as well as Bella Cain, the headline band on the main stage and other events.
Attendance improved to 23,674 on Saturday, but that still was down about 20 percent from 2012.
There was some sunshine in the numbers, particularly on Wednesday and Thursday when attendance was well above the respective numbers from 2012. Together, the Wednesday/Thursday attendance of 28,576 was up about 25 percent from the same period last year. Sunday also finished on a positive note, up nearly 5 percent from 2012.
"We're pleased. We feel we put on a great event and we got a lot of good feedback," said Vyfvinkel, a former event planner at Navy Pier who was hired in 2011. "We did everything we could, which certainly showed on the days the weather was nice."
Visitors enjoyed the renovated and expanded "Kid Korral" with a variety of activities for children and other improvements, such as the expanded Festival Square, she said.
The annual fair generates about half the revenue for the not-for-profit Lake County Fair Association, which weathered a variety of issues during its first few years at its new home.
All fair proceeds go back into the operation. While the financial picture has been corrected, Vyfvinkel said, the fair is not yet in a position to add buildings or other amenities per the original vision.
"With revenues down (from the 2013 fair), that will make it difficult for us. We'll be OK," Vyfvinkel said. "The 'nice to haves' may not happen," she said.
Remaining revenues come from facilities rental during the rest of the year, and the facility is booked nearly every weekend for 2013, according to Vyfvinkel.
Fair board President Kelli Kepler-Yarc said officials were disappointed because of the strong start.
"But, while we're a weather-dependent event, the numbers tell us Mother Nature couldn't come close to dampening the spirit of Lake County residents for the fair they obviously love," she said in a statement.