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Money on a stick: State Fair numbers are in

Charlie Torgerson shows off his chocolate-covered bacon creation, Pig Lickers, which helped boost Famous Dave's sales this year.
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
Charlie Torgerson shows off his chocolate-covered bacon creation, Pig Lickers, which helped boost Famous Dave’s sales this year.

Minnesota State Fair attendance was up this year: 12,000 more people went through the gates during the 12-day event than in 2007. And we spent a little more on food — especially cookies.

Attendance total was 1,693,533. That’s still nearly 70,000 below the all-time record, set in 2001 — before the Sept. 11 attacks of that year, of course.

There’d been concerns this summer that high gas prices — which had eased off the $4 mark by late August, but not by much — and the weak economy might cause some people to stay home from the Fair, or at least not spend as much.

The counter argument, though, was that maybe folks had cut back on their long driving vacations, but they’d still be looking for one fun end-of-summer fling.

Apparently that’s what happened.

All around the country, people took vacations closer to home and went to their local fairs, said Jerry Hammer, general manager of the Minnesota State Fair.

But fairgoers did try to save money. More people than ever paid a bit less to get in — more than one-third of admission tickets were bought in advance for $8, rather than paying the $11 adult admission at the gate. And more people bought the $5 coupon book, offering two-for-one deals or discounts on food and merchandise and rides.

With the Republican National Convention in town in the days following the Fair, Hammer saw lots of international reporters on the fairgrounds, looking for some local color for their reports.

From Fuji-TV to the BBC, all seemed impressed, Hammer said.

“They’d come expecting to spend a half-hour getting some shots, and end up staying four hours,” he said.

Now for my favorite stats from the fair: food sales.

Early reports show food and beverage sales were up 6 percent over last year, but that doesn’t include beer, which will be calculated soon based on reports from the distributors.

The 6 percent increase matches pretty closely the overall price increases officials saw in fair foods, Hammer said. Still, some places sold a lot of food.

• Sweet Martha’s cookies, with two locations on the fairgrounds: $2 million in gross sales (before food costs, employee wages, insurance, building maintenance, and a 12.5 percent fee to the fair.)

• Three cheese-curd stands: $1.2 million.

• Two French Fries vendors: $775,000

• Four mini-donut stands: $675,000

• Corn Roast: $600,000

Two surprise winners but a sad surprise for nutritionists, perhaps.

A guy who had a pita sandwich stand in 2007 that grossed $27,000 had an inspiration that pork pays. He switched over to the Big Fat Bacon stand and grossed $126,000.

And sales at Famous Dave’s, which grossed $174,000 last year, improved to $279,000 this year. There may have been many factors, including live music at night. But the big new food at Famous Dave’s this year — and it did attract lots of buyers and actually wasn’t bad — was chocolate covered bacon.

Can’t wait to see what they’re selling next year.

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