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Editor's Notes: All's fair in love and wurst

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Robin Doussard
Monday, August 31, 2009
It is, I will admit, a guilty pleasure, this love of exotic poultry, small swine and giant vegetables. I wait each year for my fix: a kitsch junkie desperate for just one more cake decorated to look like Mt. Hood.

Yes, the Oregon State Fair in Salem is finally back, and like any fair maniac, I had to get there on opening weekend this past Sunday, dragging the husband behind me. He’s weird. He doesn’t like the fried food, rigged games, throw-up rides or cakes shaped like Oregon. But he does like the Poultry House and baby pigs. It's enough to build a marriage on.

The fair, which turns 146 this year, has been slowly sprucing itself up over the past few years. Connie Bradley, acting director of the fair, says in the past two years they’ve torn down the old 4-H dorm and a few other decrepit buildings; reroofed the barns; and "painted — a lot." Oregon State University is preserving the windows at the Poultry House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. And they've also beefed up the concert series.

Fair attendance grew only 2% from 2007 to 2008 (to about 365,000), but Bradley says visitors to county fairs have been strong this year, so she's hoping that's a sign that their numbers will be good. But she adds that concert sales so far are not up to last year's.

The key to the success of the Oregon State Fair and Exposition Center is the other 50 weeks of the year when there is no fair. Bradley plans to boost the marketing of the meeting facilities at the fairgrounds, and plans to create a nonprofit/government rate for those facilities. The fair and expo center are operated by the state's parks and recreation department, which provides $2 million of a $14 million budget. Bradley's goal is to get the fair to be financially self-sustaining as soon as possible.

OK, the boring business stuff is now out of the way. Here's some totally cool facts about the fair's 11-day run:

* There are 600 horses, 750 beef cattle, 370 dairy cattle, 520 goats, 1,300 sheep, 370 pigs, 79 llamas, 385 chickens, 113 pigeons, 325 rabbits, 135 guinea pigs, and 99 dogs (in the 4-H dog show). Pups, you need to get a better agent.

* 937,000 cups of soda are consumed, enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool 10 times. (Note: I would up the number of Port-o-Potties if this is true.)

* 250,000 burgers, 633,500 hotdogs, 20,000 ears of corn and 14,000 pounds of yakisoba noodles are devoured. No public stats on the number of fried Twinkies sold were available.

If you've never been, you really need to experience all this first-hand. Get yourself to the fair, have a giant cheese-covered bratwurst and a brick of deep-fried curly fries, and marvel at the prize-winning pumpkins. Maybe take a spin on the Tilt-a-Whirl. You can thank me later, after the Alka-Seltzer.

Robin Doussard is the editor of Oregon Business.

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