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2021 NYS Fair comes to a close with less than half normal attendance

The crowd at the New York State Fair
Michael Okoniewski
NYS Fair

The books are closed on the 2021 edition of the New York State Fair. While the average daily attendance this year was less than half what it was in 2019, it was to be expected, as COVID-19 cases rise and the fair for the first time became an 18-day affair.

Gregory Horan has been running Horan’s food stand at the fair since the late 1990s. And he was happy to serve customers even in what was an unprecedented year.

"I think we’re having a good fair. It could be a little busier,” Horan said. “But we’re having a good time and we’re going to be okay."

Attendance drifted between about 30,000 and 60,000 fairgoers each day over the 18-day run, compared to twice that in pre-pandemic times, when the fair was setting attendance records. But that was no surprise to Fair Director Troy Waffner.

"You talk to fairgoers, and fairgoers loved the lowered crowds, because you can move around the crowds,” Waffner said. “The vendors have been very understanding. And we’ll top out at about 800,000, which is not horrible, but it’s not what we’re used to."

When the fair ended, the final attendance for this year was 798,095. The 2019 fair drew 1.3 million people in 13 days.

The pandemic edition of the fair also was also the first to extend to 18 days. Bosco’s has been slinging sausage sandwiches and hot dogs at the State Fair for 40 years now. And while owner Steven Bosco said the depressed crowd couldn’t be helped, he wonders if it was a good year to move to 18 days.

“I think 18 days is too long,” said Bosco. “I can see getting a couple of extra days out of it but 18 days is too long."

Waffner said Albany has the final say on the issue. And he expects it to be a point of discussion in the fair post mortem.

"I think if you took a straw poll, probably most people would be in favor of 13 days. It’s a sustainable fair,” Waffner said. “Then we don’t step on Erie and Delaware counties which are good partners with us. We share vendors and ag exhibitors and everything. But it’s a decision we’ll talk to the governor’s office about.”

As for COVID, there’s no evidence at this point that the fair was a COVID-19 superspreader event. But it clearly was the reason attendance was down, according to Waffner.

"The fairs in the early part of the season did phenomenal, they had record years,” he said. “The fairs going on now, if you look at Minnesota, Kentucky, Tennessee, some of the others, they’re down significant percentages. The only thing that links us all is a spike in the COVID variant and kids going back to school."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.