Thursday, July 31st, 2008
By Shelley Grieshop
Auglaize fair nears record attendance
Smaller counties appear to draw crowds better than cities
  Attendance figures are near record highs this week at the Auglaize County Fair despite low numbers at other fairs across Ohio.
"It's been terrific," says fair secretary Fred Piehl, as he roams the grounds on Wednesday. "Yesterday was the best Tuesday attendance we've had in five years."
Specific gate tallies were not yet available.
Smaller counties appear to be drawing their usual crowds or, in some cases, larger than normal. But for some of Ohio's bigger fairs, such as those held recently in Hamilton (Cincinnati) and Franklin (Columbus) counties, gate receipts have been gloomy.
The Ohio agriculture officials say metropolitan-area fairs have experienced huge drops in attendance this summer. Officials blame a lack of volunteers and cash to spruce up the grounds, as well as a poor economic situation and gas prices.
Piehl says it was difficult early on to estimate how the public would react to the change in this year's fair schedule. For the first time ever, the fair began on a Sunday, instead of a Monday. Festivities will end on Saturday.
"We had a good showing on Sunday," he said. "We just weren't sure how people would respond to starting this on a weekend."
The number of exhibits is up "just a bit," he said. And keeping all those livestock animals cool in the heat is always trying, Piehl said.
"We have a tremendous amount of fans. It's good we've kept up with electrical upgrades," he added.
It's been hot and muggy so far this week with high temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s, but folks who came for the rides and shows - or perhaps the Walking Tacos, Orange Zippy drinks or Wiener Dun in the Bun - didn't seem to mind. After all, it's late July in Ohio and sultry days are expected, Piehl said.
Fair patrons were greeted with overcast skies and even an occasional breeze on Wednesday. The possibility of a shower or two fades after today and sunny skies will prevail through the last day of activities on Saturday.
Grasping a cold bottle of soda, Piehl scans the sky as beads of sweat roll from his forehead.
"I think it's going to be another good day," he says. "I think we'll squeak through."
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