It’s official: A record-setting number of visitors – 1,160,184 – crossed through the gates into the Erie County Fair this year, breaking the previous record set in 2011 by 10 percent.
LouAnn Delaney, director of marketing and public relations, announced the figures late Sunday.
The previous record was set in 2011, when 1,053,150 visitors made their way to the Hamburg Fairgrounds.
Delaney credited the attendance uptick to a number of factors, including a combination of ideal weather, entertainment and gate promotions.
“It’s been a very good year and a better year than it was last year,” said Delaney, who added that the Erie County Fair is one of the 15 best- attended in North America. Organizers are hoping to crack the Top 10.
The fair also broke records in another way.
For the first time, a canned-good drive for the Western New York Food Bank was incorporated into the festivities. Fairgoers who donated canned goods received discounts on admission prices.
Through a mix of canned food and monetary donations, about 250,000 pounds of canned goods were collected, marking an all-time high for a single local drive at the Food Bank, Delaney said.
“It’s humbling,” she said. “It’s given everyone a good feeling of giving back.”
The fair plans to repeat the drive next year, during the 175th version of the Erie County Fair.
Also new this year were four acres of newly paved blacktop and an enhanced food court area.
Familiar favorites remained. Food stands glistened with posters advertising trusty culinary standbys, such as deep-fried Oreos and blooming onions.
Kid-friendly roller-coasters chugged along tracks. More daring riders braved such rides as the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Enterprise, twirling and flipping in every direction at dizzying speeds.
Coaching his sons as they attempted to perform back flips on a bungee-like apparatus, John Galante said he made the drive from near Rochester in Monroe County because the fair offers fun for all ages. His 18-month-old son enjoys the barn animals. His 7- and 9-year-olds enjoy the bungee apparatus, called the Mega Jump.
“For me, it’s the french fries,” Galante joked.
Darnell James, 31, enthusiastically recalled the fair foods he conquered this year – fried dough, turkey wings and ribbon fries with cheese.
“I’m thinking about trying the deep-fried things, like a fried Oreo, but I’m scared,” he said. James was at the fair with his daughters, 4 years and 3 months.
“Time with the kids – it means a lot,” he said.
Malachi Elliott, 11, a first-timer, said a day at the fair helped him conquer his fear of fast-moving rides.
“I would love to come back next year,” he said.
He’ll have plenty waiting for him, if he does.
Plans for next year’s anniversary- edition fair are under way – beginning today, with the leveling of three barns to be replaced by a state-of-the art agricultural discovery center set to debut next year.
The 60,000-square-foot center will be open year-round and will feature interactive exhibits, theater, classrooms and stalling areas.
Also, tight-rope walker Nik Wallenda has announced he’ll be toeing the line over the breadth of the fairgrounds next year.
The logistics of the walk are still being planned.