Attendance at the Wisconsin State Fair was down this year amid some bad weather and the surging COVID-19 delta variant.
After being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, this year's State Fair drew 841,074 fairgoers over its 11-day run from Aug. 5-15.
“We have an overwhelming amount of gratitude for the opportunity to have hosted the 170th Wisconsin State Fair and celebrate everything we should be so proud of in our great state,” Kathleen O’Leary, chief executive officer of Wisconsin State Fair Park, said in a statement Thursday. “Seeing smiling faces enter our gates again after 724 days was a tremendous accomplishment for our staff, vendors, exhibitors, and board of directors.
"While we were faced with challenging weather conditions for several days, we persevered to provide the best experience possible for all," O'Leary said.
In 2019, the last year the fair was held, the fair tallied a record attendance of 1,130,572. This year's attendance of 841,074 is a 25.6% drop compared to that 2019 figure. (For comparison, attendance at the Iowa State Fair was down nearly 7% this year compared to 2019, the Des Moines Register reported.)
Before the pandemic, the Wisconsin State Fair had seven years straight where attendance topped 1 million visitors, according to the fair's website. But with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, especially among the unvaccinated, lower attendance wasn't unexpected.
In fact, before the State Fair, Wisconsin State Fair Chief Marketing Officer Jen Puente said she didn't think they'd hit the 1 million attendance mark again, but would welcome it with "open arms," according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The paper notes there were some changes to this year's State Fair, including shortened hours. But there were new things, like 70 new foods and an upgraded Central Mall space.
In an effort to get fairgoers vaccinated, the Wisconsin State Fair offered a free Original Cream Puff, the iconic Wisconsin dessert, to everyone who got the COVID-19 vaccine at the fair.
The Wisconsin Department of Health said it administered 608 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Wisconsin Bakers Association sold nearly 300,000 of the popular puff, the State Fair said.
Some are wondering if Iowa's and Wisconsin's fair attendance are a sign for what's to come at the Minnesota State Fair when it starts its 12-day run on Aug. 26.
The Minnesota State Fair will not require people to show proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test. And it's asking people who are over the age of 2 and medically able to wear a face covering when they're inside, outdoors in crowded settings and at vendor booths that require masks.
Some people have said they won't go to the fair this year. Meanwhile, WCCO Radio will not be broadcasting from the fair due to COVID-19 safety concerns.