SYRACUSE — The longest New York State Fair in history finished with its lowest attendance total in more than 35 years.
With 58,659 attendees on Monday, the fair finished with an overall attendance of 798,095. It's the first time since 1985 that attendance dipped below 800,000. That year, there were 793,897 attendees in 11 days.
This year, the fair expanded to an 18-day schedule. The average daily attendance was 44,338 — the lowest in 80 years. The fair's best day was Saturday when there were 64,867 attendees.
It's a different outcome for a fair that set all-time attendance marks every year from 2016 through 2019 and broke single-day records along the way. Two years ago, the fair drew 1,329,275 visitors in 13 days to set the total attendance record. That performance included 147,749 in one day, which is also a record.
But the fair's momentum was interrupted by COVID-19. There was no fair in 2020 due to the pandemic. The fate of this year's fair was unknown until April when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that it would be held after a one-year hiatus. In June, Cuomo said the fair would operate at 100% capacity and nearly all buildings would be open.
When the fair opened on Aug. 20, the usual crowds weren't there. Attendance was 37,364 on opening day — one of seven days with under 40,000 fairgoers. It wasn't until the ninth day of the 18-day run that attendance topped 50,000.
There are a few factors that likely contributed to the decreased attendance at this year's fair. COVID-19 remains a concern. The fair took precautions — masks were required in buildings and vendors were spaced out throughout the fairgrounds. But with COVID-19 cases rising in central New York and across the state, large numbers of people stayed home.
Limited park-and-ride options and the loss of longtime food vendors have also been cited as reasons why some longtime fairgoers didn't go this year.
It may take time for the fair to return to its record-setting form, but its 2021 comeback featured at least one bright spot. Its concert lineup was popular, and three concerts from this year's fair are now among the most attended concerts in the event's history.
The 2022 fair is scheduled for Aug. 19 through Sept. 5.