South Carolina

Attendance drops at South Carolina State Fair during 150th anniversary run

The South Carolina State Fair came to an end Sunday night, completing its 150th anniversary run.

Organizers said this year’s event was special, and pointed to several unique exhibits and additions to the 2019 fair that celebrated the anniversary.

In spite of that, attendance dropped.

During this year’s 12-day run, 416,320 visitors came to the fair. That number marks a decline in attendance, falling from last year’s figure of 443,712 visitors, which was one day shorter than planned after being interrupted by Hurricane Michael.

In fact, this year’s attendance total was lower than the 429,947 people who turned out to the fair in 2015, when Columbia was affected by historic flooding.

Attendance might have been hurt by rainy, windy weather on the fair’s last Saturday, which was the same day as a University of South Carolina college football game at Williams-Brice Stadium. Temperatures were also cooler as the effects of Tropical Storm Nestor caused organizers to close some rides because of safety concerns, fair officials said in a WIS report.

The fair’s other Saturday was marred by an incident that panicked the crowd.

The state fair closed early and some patrons suffered minor injuries after waves of fair-goers ran for the exits because of rumors of gunfire, The State reported. Numerous people fell and some scaled fences to get away from the scene.

Despite multiple witness claims of gunfire, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said there was no evidence of a shooting.

Still, the incident caused a “disruption and ... anxiety for our patrons,” South Carolina State Fair general manager Nancy Smith said in a news release.

There were no other major incidents reported for the rest of the fair’s run, according to the sheriff’s department.

Those who visited the fair had the chance to experience a free daily circus. Organizers said a 1,300-seat arena in a 48-foot big top tent beside the Ellison Building was filled to capacity during the fair’s run, as people flocked to see the circus.

And in addition to multiple new food options from vendors on the fairgrounds, the fair also featured four new rides, bringing its lineup to nearly 70.

Another change was to offer free musical performances from local and regional acts, instead of charging extra for tickets to see national performers.

“We are so grateful to all our patrons who came out to help us celebrate this special anniversary event,” Smith said in a news release. “This fair really belongs to the residents of South Carolina, and this year we were able to showcase many of the things that have long made the fair special to so many people.”

That included several exhibits and promotions honoring the 150th anniversary.

Among those were a special pictorial cancellation stamp by the U.S. Postal Service; a published history of the fair, “Meet Me at the Rocket” by historian Rodger Stroup; and a “Prize-Winning Memories” wall, according to organizers.

“We appreciate everyone’s support of the fair,” Smith said in the news release. “We will continue to build on what we have to provide an even better fair in the years to come, and we look forward to welcoming everyone back next year.”

The 2020 state fair will run from Oct. 14-25.

Fair Attendance The Past Five Years

2019: 416,320

2018: 443,712

2017: 427,466

2016: 464,878

2015: 429,947

Source: South Carolina State Fair and The State newspaper archives

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State focused on breaking news, public safety and trending news. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.