Washington State Fair fans will have more to love in 2016 – four additional days to do the Puyallup, to be more precise. Fair CEO Kent Hojem announced the schedule change from 17 to 21 days Thursday at the annual shareholders meeting.
Of course, not everyone’s going to like an extended season, with the additional traffic impacts that will have on downtown Puyallup. But fair officials have a responsibility to keep this signature state event fresh and responsive to visitors’ needs. The fair may be a not-for-profit enterprise, but it’s also a multimillion-dollar business and tax revenue provider that always needs to keep an eye on the bottom line.
Moving the opening day up a week, to the Friday before Labor Day, makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. But the big one is that it allows the fair to capture an additional weekend audience – a three-day holiday, at that – before many children return to school. And because the Labor Day weekend is earlier in the summer, there’s a greater opportunity to have a spell of good weather – something that has a big effect on ticket sales.
There’s no guarantee that Mother Nature will cooperate. Northwesterners know that Labor Day weekend weather can be glorious – or an abysmal washout. Still, with four weekends instead of three, there are more opportunities to draw visitors who can’t get away during the more lightly attended weekdays.
Another smart move is that the fair will start taking a breather during the week. Tuesdays are historically the least attended days during the fair’s run, so the fair will go dark on that day starting in 2016.
That should provide fair workers a welcome respite and give Puyallup residents a day during the week to go downtown without running into thousands of fairgoers. The off day will also provide an opportunity to switch out or refresh exhibits without inconveniencing visitors.
Fair officials have done their homework on this. In looking at fairs elsewhere, they found that expanding the schedule has resulted in higher attendance, not just spreading the same number of people over more days. Part of the reason for that may be that more people are willing to visit if it’s not quite as crowded on a given day.
There’s plenty of advance warning to make adjustments to public safety staffing for the additional days, and Puyallup Police and Central Pierce Fire & Rescue are well up to the challenge.