GAITHERSBURG — The 68th Montgomery County Agricultural Fair kicked off Aug. 12 as a heat wave kept some visitors away from the fair.
While some braved the heat anyway, attendance at this year’s fair dropped in the first days 25 to 30 percent, according to Carl Holland, president of the board of directors for the County Fair.
Holland said the fair averages about 220,000 visitors a year but attendance stalled during the weekend when temperatures reach 100 degrees in the Washington Metropolitan area.
“The heat has affected our fair okay. I would say about 25 to 30 percent compared to what we’ve had in past weekends we’ve started our fairs and so forth,” Holland said. “You also have to take into effect when you have a meteorologist that tells you to stay home because of the heat and you might have heatstroke and stuff like that, it’s hard to compete against people in television.”
Fair organizers offered easy access to free water as well as cooling stations and air-conditioned buildings.
“One of the biggest things that we noticed this year is that all of our vendors, when you walk by — and we don’t ask them to do this — the vendors have had water on hand asking if we would like a drink of water as you’re walking by, which is nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Holland said. “ It’s a step forward in the right direction, helping the public and helping the patrons.”
Vendors said business at the fair dropped significantly during the weekend compared to fairs in years past.
County fair Executive Director Martin Svrcek said there is plenty of shade and benches for people to rest on the 62 acres of land at the fair’s grounds.
Hoping to escape the heat some fair attendees took advantage of the fair’s air conditioned “Chilly Mall.”
“I do feel like people are coming inside to get away from the heat and not necessarily to see what’s inside,” said Liz Griffith, owner of LulaRoe, a clothing boutique inside the fair’s chilly mall. “So I would say it’s had an effect. And I’ve been talking to other vendors and they definitely seen, you know, business slow down for sure.”
Lyn Rhodes came to the fair from Oakland in Garrett County to enjoy to the plethora of food options.
After an hour at the fair, Rhodes said he had to take refuge inside the chilly mall to escape from the heat.
“I’m used to Western Maryland, where it’s cool,” Rhodes said.
Outside of the Chilly Mall, where most of the vendors set up shop, business slowed to a crawl.
“Definitely it’s been slower. I think people have been staying home because of the heat,” said Kirk Warner, director of marketing for Capmac, a gourmet food truck. “We’re hoping that Tuesday or Wednesday when the heat slows down, people will come, it will be a little bit busier.”
Warner, whose food truck is located in Washington D.C., said his company has set up a stand at the fair for the past three years hoping to draw attention to his business.
While fewer customers approached Capmac’s stand at this year’s fair, one set of particularly noteworthy guests did stop by: video crews from The Cooking Channel’s show Carnival Eats.
“It’s great for advertising, it’s an honor really to be asked,” Warner said.
Heat withstanding, events at the County Fair continued as normal with the parade, rides and farm animals being among the biggest attraction over the weekend.
New at the County fair this year is the Haai Shark Encounter, a traveling shark exhibit, and Myotonic Goats, a breed of goat that faints as a defense mechanism.
Svreck said the new additions are meant to further the County Fair’s mission of promoting agricultural education and fun.
“One of our missions is agricultural education and getting the kids learning about their food sources, learning how food is produced,” Svreck said. “Nutrition is a very important part of what we do here. It’s not just rides; it’s a much bigger mission.”
The fair runs through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to midnight, at the Montgomery County Agricultural Center, located at 501 Perry Parkway.