Attendance strong as fair wraps up

What recession? After leading its 2008 attendance figures for three days straight, Westerner Days saw a bit of a drop on Saturday, but still looked mighty good by late Sunday afternoon, says fair manager John Harms.

A member of the African Acrobats limbos under a flaming pole during a performance on the Olymel Stage at the Enmax Centruim during the last day of Westerner Days

What recession?

After leading its 2008 attendance figures for three days straight, Westerner Days saw a bit of a drop on Saturday, but still looked mighty good by late Sunday afternoon, says fair manager John Harms.

By 5 p.m. on Sunday, the 2009 version of Westerner Days was looking strong, but not strong enough to beat last year’s record attendance of 90,757 people.

Saturday’s cumulative numbers had lagged, reaching 73,819 people compared to 74,547 last year.

There were two reasons the fair didn’t do as well this Saturday as it did on the same day last year, said Harms.

First off, 2008’s Sawyer Brown show drew a huge crowd of 3,700, compared to the 1,600 to 1,800 who attended Aaron Pritchard for this year’s Saturday evening concert, he said.

Secondly, blazing hot weather on Saturday sent a large number of people seeking cooler ways to spend their day.

Among those who did attend, a few collapsed in the heat. Large numbers of fairgoers, adults and children alike, took advantage of the misting machine erected near the midway to give them a quick cool-down as needed.

Harms said on of the best moves Westerner Days made this year was to create a large family area by moving the Kiddie’s Corral to the Harvest Centre, right across the road from the children’s rides.

Alongside the play area, the fair committee created a new family barbecue centre. Smoking was banned from that area of the grounds.

As with past fairs, the Westerner’s easy access, good parking and lower prices continue to draw families from as far away as Edmonton and Calgary, said Harms.

He was contacted by one Red Deer woman who said a friend from the southeast area of Calgary found getting into Westerner Days to be quicker, cheaper and easier than the Calgary Stampede.

Red Deer mother Rachel Coomber, who brought two small children to the fair, said she wouldn’t dream of taking them to the bigger fairs, which she feels are too crowded, too expensive and not as safe.

“This is the place to be, for sure,” said Coomber.

Stacey Blueberry of Innisfail also said she felt safer and more comfortable bring her three small children to Westerner Days.

Harms had a surprise for the bigger kids as well.

After a six-year absence, the Zipper returned to as the premier thrill ride on this year’s midway. Lineups for the Zipper started shortly after the gates opened for the days and stayed that way throughout the duration of the fair.

Sheila Wetherelt and her brother Jerry, waiting in line for their turn to climb into one of the Zipper’s two-person cages, both said they were thrilled to see its return.

“My dad took me on it when it was like, eight, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” said Sheila Wetherelt.

Based on a study of last year’s event, Westerner officials say this year’s fair was expected to generate $7.3 million in gross economic impact for the Red Deer Area.

That includes $5 million in spending by people from outside the immediate area who come to Red Deer to attend or work the fair, Westerner Park president Wendy Barnes said in a prepared statement.

The $5 million in non-local spending includes $3 million spent at the event, $660,000 on off-site retail, $300,000 on automotive costs and $455,000 on meals and accommodations.

Westerner Park staff will spend their next two weeks wrapping up the fair while shifting offices and equipment into their new administration building, located immediately north of the Centrium, said Harms.

Westerner Park has tried without success to give away its existing office building, which will likely be demolished, he said.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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