Fair weather fans: Event hopes to break even after rain washes away profits

LAWRENCEVILLE - Sunlight shone down on the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on Thursday, a welcome change for this year's fair, which found itself under an almost constant rain cloud its first five days.

The unusual amount of heavy rainfall the county has seen recently slowed crowds coming into the fair gates to a trickle.

"In normal fair years, you'll have a rain and 30 minutes later you're back operating," said Gwinnett County Fair Manager Dale Thurman. "This particular belt of rain, there was no 30 minutes later. It was always rain, nonstop, from open to finish."

In the 14 years Thurman has managed the annual county event, rain hadn't quite created such a damper.

"We've had fairs that there would be a shower maybe every day, but to be rains that came and didn't leave and just totally force you to close down the ride part of the whole fairgrounds," Thurman said, "I haven't (seen) that in the years I've been here."

Taped to the glass door that leads into the fair offices are three sheets of paper on which fair President Fred Banks, under the pen name "Hog Mountain Poet," waxes poetically about the recent rains and the impact on this year's fair.

"The fair came into town this week/ And, man, did it pour!" one poem reads. "And when we thought it would stop/ It only rained some more."

Another laments, "As we sit here in this building/ The rain is pouring down/ We're slowly going broke/ The economy is going down."

Indeed, the recent bout of heavy rains that soaked the fairgrounds kept many Gwinnett residents from attending and will likely cut this year's attendance in half compared to last.

"We're used to having 200,000 people," Thurman said. "If the rest of the week remains good, we can probably have 100,000, hopefully. It's according to what happens with the weather."

Although attendance was up Tuesday and Wednesday, the numbers weren't high enough to leave the fair association and board of directors hoping for much more than a break-even situation.

"I think we'll be very happy if we pay the bills. That's what we're at this point hoping," Thurman said. "You just can't recoup from a weekend of bad weather. You can lose a Monday or Tuesday, but you lose Friday, Saturday, Sunday, you never catch up. That's something that goes with the outdoor business."

Thurman estimated this year's livestock shows would cost about $100,000 added in with expenses for advertising at $60,000 and utilities, which will cost $40,000 to $50,000. With the addition of labor and staffing expenses, the total cost of the annual county event will likely be about $350,000.

"If we get the remainder of the days in, then we've got a potential of getting the costs paid," Thurman said. "If not, we'll be here, continue to work and be in business again next year."

SideBar: If you go

· What: Gwinnett County Fair in its final weekend

· When: Today through Sunday

· Where: Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville

· Cost: $5 for adults, $2 for seniors and children ages 6 to 12 and free for children 5 and younger

· For more information: Call 770-963-6522 or visit www.gwinnettcountyfair.com

Today at the fair

· 5:30 p.m. - Steer show, followed by the combined breed showmanship and commercial heifer shows

· 7:30 p.m. - Performance by Joey Watkins and the River Street Band

· 6:45 and 8:30 p.m. - Fearless Flores Thrill Show

· 7 and 9 p.m. - Leon Jacobs