LISBON - It took more than a late-afternoon shower to put a damper on the 169th Columbiana County Fair, which came to a close Sunday night.
The week-long event was on pace to match last year's record walk-up attendance of 39,450 as rain clouds moved in an hour before the start of the always popular demolition derby. Then, as if on schedule, the clouds disappeared just as the derby began.
"We're going to be very close to that (record) because as of Saturday we were about the same up to that point" as last year, said fair board treasurer Shelley Bergman.
Jim Risinger, a member of the rabbit and poultry committee for the county fair, kisses a rabbit — his reward for winning the Kiss-A-Critter contest at the county fair. Risinger agreed to kiss the critter instead of matching the $1,525 raised for the 4-H program, and was relieved to learn that the critter was the rabbit, not the muskrat or the snake.(Salem News photo by Patti Schaeffer)
The figures exclude passes purchased in advance or issued to fair participants, such as 4-H youth, which make the actual attendance figures much higher.
The fair was helped tremendously by a walk-up crowd of 5,793 on Friday, which broke the previous record of 5,350 for Fridays set in 2006.
"I think a lot of people were worried about the weather for Saturday and came out Friday instead, but then we had a good night Saturday," said fair board president John Wolf.
Events such as county fairs are always at the mercy of the weather, and the 2013 edition of the county fair was blessed with near-perfect conditions - lower temperatures and humidity and almost no rain. This year there was more rain but not during the evenings, when the main events are usually held and crowds are the largest.
Wolf believes some of the good attendance was due to curiosity over the new grandstand. "I think there were a lot of people excited about the grandstand. I think it drove a lot of the attendance," he said.
The fair board and supporters were proud of the new grandstand, which at 2,500 seats holds 1,000 more than the 160-year-old old wooden grandstand it replaced. Wolf said it was gratifying to see how quickly the community rallied, through donations and volunteer labor, to make the $900,000 project a reality.
"We can't do anything here without the help of the community," he said.
The fair board is always tweaking its offerings and making changes in hopes of appealing to the broadest crowd possible, and 2014 was no different. Wolf said they hired a new company this year to run the demolition derby to reverse a decline in participation. The event used to be held two nights but was only on Sunday evening due to a drop among participants.
"We'll see if that draws more interest from competitors," Wolf said of the new derby operator.
The fair also added some new entertainment for children, such as free balloon-twisting. "They (children) were lined up as soon they opened the tent," Wolf said
Children could also drop a line in a tank on the midway stocked with fish, which was also popular.
The strongman competition drew increased interest, with teams from five local high school football teams participating in this year's competition, up from two in 2013. Saturday's truck and tractor pulls remained as popular as Sunday's demolition derby, and traditional fair events involving livestock and other aspects of farming continue to draw large numbers of exhibitors.
"It's a long week but it's a lot of fun," Wolf said. "We've had a great year and appreciate everyone's support and comments and look forward to doing it all again next year."