Fair ends on high note

Written by Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat July 15, 2013 12:30 pm

The midway at the Mother Lode fair is crowded with people Sunday evening. Maggie Beck / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
The 76th Mother Lode Fair saw many changes but succeeded in its goal to draw more visitors, according to fair manager Don Bean.

Bean did not know the number of tickets that had been sold as of noon Sunday because pre-sale tickets had not been counted, but he estimated about a 10 percent increase in attendance compared to last year.

The initial estimate after last year’s fair was about 16,500 people.

“The goal was really to improve the fair so that people would start coming back in large numbers,” he said. 

Bean became part-time fair manager in February. He replaced Jan Haydn-Myer, who retired after 33 years as a fair employee.

One of the changes under his leadership was reducing admission prices, which he said might be a reason for the increased attendance.

Adult admission at the fair entrance was $2 more this year, but the $10 ticket included entry into grandstand arena events. The shows were an additional $5 last year.

Sonora resident Daniel Everhart, who has attended the fair for 20 years and entered this year’s Demolition Derby, said he liked that the motorized sports were included in admission.

Admission was cheaper for visitors this year if they purchased pre-sale tickets, which were sold at Save Mart for $7.50. 

Unlimited carnival ride wristbands were also less expensive this year, whether visitors purchased them before or at the fair. The advance price was slashed from $20 to $12.50 and the price at the door dropped from $25 to $20. 

Bean said lowering prices was a gamble because it is the second year the Mother Lode Fair has operated without state funding, although it remains a state agency.

In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown announced plans to eliminate funding for all fairs in California. For the Mother Lode Fair, it meant losing about $200,000 each year — a third of its operating budget. 

“We’re fortunate that we have a little bit of reserve,” Bean said. 

He said he will have to work with the state to find out how this year’s fair did financially, which could take about 90 days. He said it will help him figure out how to approach the 2014 fair.

“I’m not sure if we’re making more money but we’re making more friends,” Bean said.

Denise Lynch, of Columbia, who has been attending the fair since 1976, said attendance seemed low when she was at the fair Sunday. She arrived when the fair opened at 1 p.m. and stayed about an hour. 

“Usually Sundays, there’s quite a few people here,” she said. “They probably all went Friday or Saturday.”

She also expected more people to show up later in the day to watch the crowd-pleasing Demolition Derby.

Bean said Friday’s truck and tractor pull event was well-attended and brought in vehicle owners and spectators from Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

He said many people also attended the fair Saturday night and filled every chair around the stage to watch the Elvin Bishop concert. He invited the musician to return next year.

Bean said that while some of this year’s layout changes didn’t go smoothly, relocating the stage to a shady spot was one that worked well.

“People really seem to enjoy what we did with the entertainment stage and I hoped that was going to be the case,” he said.

While Everhart didn’t rank this year’s fair better or worse than previous fairs, he said he liked that the stage was moved out of the sun.

He added that an improvement the fair could make is upgrading the rides, which his now 17- and 19-year-old kids have ridden for years.

Fairgoer Rachel Mourer brought her 2-year-old and 5-year-old sons to the Sonora fair from Modesto and said they enjoyed the rides and games.

“This is their favorite (fair) to come to,” she said.

Mourer, a former Sonora resident, has attended the fair three years in a row.

“I think it just keeps getting better,” she said. “It’s a good mix of lots of stuff to do.”

Bean said families with young kids seemed to enjoy the new kids zone in the John Muir Building and teenagers liked the new mechanical bull.

He also said that food and alcohol sales rose slightly and the new barbecue booth, run by California barbecue champion QN4U, was especially popular.

Bean said the part of the fair he was most pleased with was the Future Farmers of America and 4-H programs, and that the livestock auction was a success. 

He said planning for next year’s fair began Sunday morning.

He said Sunday that he planned to distribute a questionnaire to vendors seeking their feedback and is hoping to hear from the public also. Fairgoers can send comments to Bean at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

“I think overall we feel pretty good about the direction that we’re going because what we were really trying to accomplish was to get people to come back to the fair,” he said. “I’m real happy with the way it went and I hope Tuolumne County feels the same way.”