Attendance at rainy York Fair down more than 100,000

Each year, the York Fair is heavily dependent on weather to draw crowds, and this year the rain hit hard during its 10-day run.

Rain or threat of rain was present for seven of those days — and attendance dropped by more than 100,000. A total of 450,173 people attended this year, compared to 565,483 last year, according to a news release.

“Pure and simple, it is hard to compete with Mother Nature," stated Michael Froehlich, the fair's CEO.

More than 4½ inches of rain fell the first five days, Sept. 7-11, according to the release, and the effects were compounded by added concern over the looming Hurricane Florence.

Jayme Livingston, 6, left, and his sister McKennah 3, of Red Lion, grab the same rubber ducky while trying for a prize on the last day of the York Fair, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

More:Florence to move over York County late Monday

More:Florence pours on the rain in the Carolinas; death toll at 5

Though the hurricane did not end up being a safety threat, many people saw that kind of weather in the forecast and didn't want to come out, said fair communications director Brianna Holmes.

On the days it rained, it rained most of the day, she said, with light rain early in the morning before the gates opened on three other days.

Programming: But fair programming still managed to bring out the masses, who came in droves on the last two days, which were sunny — about 79,000 on Saturday, Sept. 15, and 73,000 on Sunday.

"We have those fairgoers who will come out rain or shine," Holmes said. "I think that saved us."

A free demolition derby Sunday, Sept. 16, and monster trucks the day before both sold out the grandstand, and other grandstand acts and indoor activities helped keep visitors at the fairgrounds, she said.

Arya Watkins, 4, of York Township, reacts on the Speedway ride at the York Fair children's midway Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. The fair continues through Sunday, Sept. 16. Bill Kalina photo

Because of the last two days, even ride sales did not take too much of a hit. They were down less than 20 percent gross, Holmes said.

And the fair had more than 100 different food vendors, with 15 that were new this year.

"On days it was good, it was great," she said of food sales.

New programming, such as the Community Pavilion — which hosted local and cultural entertainment each day — also did well, filling all 400 seats on the local dancer and Feria Latina days. 

More:York Fair celebrates diversity, adds more free events

The popular racing pigs and dogs had a crowd every single day, Holmes said, and though some acts such as the flying pages were dependent on weather for safety, on days where weather was better, every seat was filled.

Fair goers take to the rides on a rain-free evening at the York Fair, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Impact: The financial impact of this year's weather is still up in the air.

"Any year that we run into these tropical storms, that's going to have an impact," Holmes said.

It's part of the reason why fair management is still considering moving dates to the summer months — a change that might come as early as 2020.

More:Manager: Moving York Fair to summer could be 'catalyst'

Hurricane season is always right before the fair, she said, so weather usually ends up being a factor, not to mention other downsides to having fall dates, such as fewer school-aged children and volunteers.

Holmes said she is still waiting on some vendor totals, but no matter what kind of financial hit, "the fair's going to go on."

New CEO: Bryan Blair, who will soon take the reins as CEO, hopes to bring some new ideas to the fair.

Blair came on board as chief operating officer in August after Froehlich announced his retirement, which will take effect Dec. 31.

After 40 years in the fair industry and 11 years in leadership, Froehlich is moving home to family and friends in Georgia. He's been planning the departure for about two years and "always say he's going to be a professional grandpa now," Holmes said.

Vivian Henry, of Dover Township, and Jakob Koch, of Manchester Township, both 3, have unique reactions to their ride on the Happy Swing at the York Fair children's midway Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. The fair continues through Sunday, Sept. 16. Bill Kalina photo

A nationwide search led Froehlich to Blair, the previous general manager of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair and Agricultural Exposition in Goshen, Indiana.

Blair plans to start by listening and learning from Froehlich, keeping traditions that work and brainstorming new ideas.

One of those ideas is the possible move to the summer, which management plans to explore again next summer through events such as the Wild West Summer Fest, which held its first event this July to great success.

"Things can only go up from there," Holmes said.

The 2019 fair is scheduled for Sept. 6-15.