After a two-year semi-hiatus caused by concerns about mass gatherings pushing the spread of COVID-19, the 22nd District Agricultural Association is bringing back the full-scale version of the San Diego County Fair, the popular annual event of all things yummy, bright and loud.
“Heroes ReUnite!” is the theme of the 2022 event, scheduled to run June 8 through July 4.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association manages and operates the home of the Fair, the Del Mar Fairgrounds, on behalf of the state of California. The association is governed by a nine-member board appointed by the governor.
“For our staff it really is a labor of love to put on the event,” said Del Mar Fairgrounds marketing director Jennifer Hellman. “It’s such an unusual and fun industry, and we’re very much looking forward to getting back at it.”
A Treasured Tradition
“For generations, earning a coveted blue ribbon at the Fair is an annual goal and a treasured tradition,” Hellman said.
But the San Diego County Fair had to be downsized considerably in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.
Fair officials held a drive-thru food event in 2020 called “Fair Food Fix” on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from June 19 through Sept. 7. Nearly 30,000 vehicles visited the event, which brought in $1.5 million in food sales.
And a scaled-down 2021 Fair held June 11 through July 4 drew a total in-person attendance of just over 271,000 – a far cry from the 2019 Fair which attracted 1.5 million guests.
The Fairgrounds traditionally operates on revenue earned by hosting events – the most profitable event being the Fair – so the pandemic also forced some reductions in Fairgrounds’ staffing over the past two years.
But in normal years, the Fair is a hige contributor to the local economy. An economic impact study of the 2019 San Diego County Fair conducted by San Diego State University students showed that over the course of 27 operating days, more than 1.5 million attendees spent $236 million.
$5.8M in Direct Economic Impact
The SDSU report said that primary customers of the Fair live in San Diego County, with just 3 percent coming from out of the county.
The 2019 SDSU report also noted a 2002 study by KPMG that estimated off-site dining and hotels saw $5.8 million in direct impact from 2019 Fair attendees, with another $1.5 million of indirect impact and $2.7 million induced impact (increased income caused by the direct and indirect effects).
The total economic impact of the 2019 Fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the region was $10 million overall, the report said.
Because the pandemic continues, fair officials said they are looking at limiting attendance in 2022. They are also moving ahead on tiered pricing, lowering costs on weekdays compared to weekend pricing, as well as pushing admission and parking sales online.
“With attendance limited to account for social distancing and cashless transactions during Home Grown Fun, we found these things resulted in some really great benefits, including enhanced guest experience with less crowds and more room for seating areas, and cost benefits to us in labor for cash transactions,” Hellman said.
The 2022 Fair’s featured theme exhibit – “Hall of Heroes” – will include comic book characters, silver screen icons and interactive activities where patrons can test their superpowers. Heroes closer to home will also be part of the exhibit.
“It seems more appropriate now than ever to recognize heroes in our community right alongside the storied superheroes, so we’re looking forward to enhancing the exhibit with recognition of local individuals who take extraordinary measures to make the world a better place,” Hellman said.
There will be some new looks to the 2022 Fair, including a pilot program which could prove to be a boon for local vendors.
Selling at the Fair can be a major commitment for small businesses and staffing a booth the entire duration of the Fair can be challenging, particularly if the business is already maintaining a retail outlet or is “more of a local artisan where their craft or product is a hobby or side hustle to a full-time job,” Hellman said.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY FAIR
Governing Body: 22nd District Agricultural Association
Fairgrounds Board President: Gloria Joyce Rowland
Site: Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
2022 Fair: June 8 through July 4
Notable: The San Diego County Fair started in 1880 and saw record attendance of 1.6 million fairgoers in 2016. The 1958 winner of “Fairest of the Fair” was Raquel Tejada (Raquel Welch).