Rainy weather hurts attendance at 2016 Indiana State Fair

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - The Indiana State Fair ended on a record high note for attendance, but a fabulous ending could not make up for the overall downturn in attendance this year.

Chris McClure has been making customized wooden signs for fairgoers for the past 36 years. He said he'll remember the 2016 fair for the fewest number of visitors he can remember.

"I don't count the people coming, but I'm pretty sure it was 30 percent down. Nobody in front of my booth. We could see all of our vendors for many days," said McClure. "There was a rain cloud that just kept people inside."

"When the numbers aren't here, we don't sell," he added. "Just like every other vendor here, we don't sell."

Chris McCloud

State Fair Spokesperson Lesley Gordon blamed their low numbers on four inches of rain spread over those four days, combined with an average temperature that felt like nearly 90 degrees.

"We definitely saw that impact of what wet weather and nine days of rain can do," Gordon said.

The State Fair saw a nearly 20 percent drop in attendance from last year, with just over 730,000 visitors.

"It will make us be strategic and planning and just planning for future years."

Gordon said it was too early to say what those adjustments or changes could be next year.

Michael Lawson with Reynolds Farm Equipment said he's heard some complain about the admission price.

"A family of five getting in can be really expensive. But do I ever think it should ever be free? Absolutely not," he cautioned. "You have to put a value on this fair."

Some have contended a lack of big name acts playing the grandstand also hurt the gate.

But for some vendors, attendance didn't seem to matter. Justin Walker and Zach Martin were here with their trailer for the first time ever. They started their business called "Red Frazier Bison" in Bloomington, where they sell bison meat products.

"Obviously the weather, if it was nicer, business would have been better," said Walker. "I sold out of just about everything. So the response was overwhelming."

Despite the downturn, some vendors will absorb the loss and look ahead to next year.

"Oh, I don't think you do makeup," said Chris McClure about his wood sign business. "I just think you keep going. Y'know, it's cyclical. Next year may be the best year we've ever had."

Many vendors had to take their lumps. For the veterans, they say they can absorb it. A first-time vendor would likely be really hurt over the course of the year. For now, many are grateful for the final day of good weather that drew out more than 83,000 visitors, making up for some of the overall loss of crowds.