This year’s Washington Fair lived up to its theme — Making Memories — and then some, says Chairman Dale Westhoff.
“We had it all in terms of weather and crowds,” said Westhoff, who talked to The Missourian Monday afternoon.
“We started out Wednesday with beautiful weather and girls with the queen contest that evening. Then we had our biggest Thursday night crowd ever with Jake Owen,” he said.
“Friday was hot, very hot, and then a major storm came in on Saturday night forcing us to shut down the REO concert and close the fairgrounds.
“But we turned it all around and Sunday was great. Talk about making some memories — we sure did,” he said.
The severe weather that blew in when the REO Speedwagon concert got under way was unfortunate, Westhoff said, but the evacuation of nearly 12,000 people went smoothly and the Fair’s emergency plan worked.
“We had only one minor injury,” he added. “We plan for these kinds of events, with the fire, police and EMT, and although you don’t want to ever have to use the plan, we were ready.”
It was the first time since 1995 that the Fair had to evacuate due to severe weather.
Westhoff said the support the Fair Board received from the city, police, fire, EMTs and volunteers before, during and after the storm was phenomenal.
“We had a meeting at midnight Saturday and talked about whether we should open at all the next day and it was unanimous to open back up . . . we assigned tasks and everyone was back out there by 6 a.m. to get to work,” he said. “We delayed the opening until noon so we could get the cleanup done, but with all of the help we received, we probably could have opened on time.”
Westhoff said many past Fair Board members and countless volunteers were there in the morning, some even brought their own equipment, and got to work.
“It was really something to see,” he said. “I think the grounds looked better than on Saturday before the storms.”
Westhoff said preliminary numbers indicate gross receipts are up about 15.4 percent over last year with the Fair topping the $1 million mark.
“That’s great news,” he said, adding the numbers are not final and the profit won’t be known for some time.
Last year was the first time in nine years that gross receipts did not hit or exceed the million dollar mark.
According to preliminary reports, total receipts, including advance ticket sales are estimated at $1,139,048, up about $152,531 from last year.
Preseason ticket sales also were up from $338,602 last year to about $377,065 this year. Of that total, the queen contestants sold approximately $271,963 worth of advance season passes.
Westhoff said advance ticket sales are critical because that is the Fair’s “insurance” when storms like the one Saturday night close the grounds.
“There were still people coming in Saturday when the first cell hit so we did not get all of the gate that night and we missed out on about three hours of concession and beer sales,” he noted. “We do not take insurance out on the Main Stage acts and that’s why advance ticket sales are very important.”
Westhoff said the Fair Board did get some complaints about not issuing refunds Saturday night.
“We never do,” he said. “When people buy a ticket, it’s for the whole Fair, not a single concert. One ticket price gets you everything on the grounds and that’s how it’s always been. This is an outdoor event and obviously we always have to deal with the weather.”
Here are the preliminary daily totals for the 2012 Fair as compared to last year:
Wednesday — $81,548, up about $5,245 from last year.
Thursday — $171,406, an increase of approximately $42,888.
Friday — $195,504, up about $25,240.
Saturday — $180,282, an increase of about $33,525.
Sunday — $133,243, up about $37,702.
Westhoff said food sales were about 15 percent over last year and beverages up nearly 11 percent which all helped the bottom line.
Concessions have been down the last couple of years, said co-chair Al Behr.
“It’s nice to see that turn around,” he said. “We did have a lot of new food this year and that probably helped.”
Fair officials also said they hope it’s a sign that the economy is improving with families opting to enjoy meals at the fairgrounds.
Overall, Westhoff and Behr said the 2012 Fair ran smoothly and most importantly, people seemed to be having a good time.
The new rides on the midway were well-received, the contests were full and Agri-Land and SafetyLand had a lot of foot traffic, they said.
The stands in the motor sports arena were full all five days, they added, and the livestock auction successful.
“The Purina dog show went over very well,” Westhoff said, “They were very happy with the crowds and the response they got from the audience.”
The Main Stage entertainment was topnotch, the officials said.
“I’m really pleased with the lineup,” Westhoff said. “The crowd for Jake Owen Thursday night was huge and Gretchen Wilson did a good job Friday night with about 8,000 to 9,000 people in attendance. REO started out very strong and they were disappointed they couldn’t continue.”
The closing night show featuring Jerrod Niemann with Chris Cavanaugh also was good, he said, with close to 8,000 people on hand.
Behr said REO did express interest in returning to the Fair so he hopes something can be worked out.
Before Sunday night’s concert the Fair Board threw out T-shirts with next year’s theme — Summer’s Last Blast. Behr will serve as chairman. His co-chair will be announced this fall.
Westhoff thanked all of the volunteers who manned the gates, worked in the concession stands or helped at one of the many contests.
“This Fair would never happen without the volunteers,” he said. “We can never say thank you enough.”
The chairman also praised the emergency workers and volunteers for their help during and after the storm.
“It’s what makes this community so great,” he said.
As cleanup continues on the grounds, the Fair Board will hold a wrap-up meeting and then turn its attention to planning for next year’s Fair.