Despite days as hot as a fried Ho–Ho on a stick, the Nebraska State Fair breaks attendance records yet again.Even with blistering heat, the fair's numbers were right on track with last year's record setting pace, with total attendance of 335,000. Sunday was the single biggest crowd yet in the fair's Grand Island history. With more than 71,000 fairgoers on Labor Day Sunday, the "banana man" had his hands full.
"It was good to see lines back again," Jim Ritzman said.
Visitors came out in droves, with one of the fair's biggest weekends ever.
The fair battled blistering heat nine of 11 days, including some that felt well over 100.
Ritzman said, "That was devastating to vendors – so many people didn't come out because of it and it's hard to catch up."
Attendance dropped nearly 20 percent on some of the hottest days. It kept people away, but only on those days.
"And they all showed up on the weekend," State Fair Executive Director Joseph McDermott said.
Fair officials were thrilled 335,000 people passed through the gates, with total attendance down less than a percent from last year's record.
State Fair Board Chair Jana Kruger said, "It's a testament to Nebraskans, but they've been here before. Many of them have already come to the State Fair, they know we had air–conditioned buildings they could escape to and I think that's why numbers were as high as they were."
Surveys show 94 out of a hundred people would recommend the fair to their friends, and most say it was the best yet.
As the fair settles into it's Grand Island home, leaders acknowledge they need to add green spaces and trees.
Plus they're working on a master plan that would include more air conditioned buildings, in addition to the one under construction now.
Kruger said, "The word next year is always in the air and we're always looking for new ideas, what we want to change and how can we tweak it and make it better."
Vendors like Ritzman enjoyed deep fried satisfaction by the final weekend, even if it was a case of delayed gratification. The Banana Man gives the fair high marks and sets his sights on next year.
"I look forward to 2014," he said.
The 71,000 on Sunday was a single–day record for Grand Island and second all time only to the final Sunday in Lincoln.
"It was a banner year," board chair Jana Kruger said.
Attendance Comparison in