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Mild weather lifts attendance and vendors at end of State Fair

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Customer greeting
A customer greets employees at Mancini's Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, during the restaurant's first year at the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, Minn.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

A cool-down during the final two days of the Minnesota State Fair helped attendance rebound after hot weather kept people away in throngs. The pleasant temperatures also improved the fortunes of hundreds of fair vendors.

When the final tally came in, about 50,000 fewer people made their way to the fair compared to last year, but attendance still came in a bit over 1.7 million. That put this year's fair among the top ten ever for attendance.

The final Sunday of the fair was the biggest single attendance day in state fair history, with 236,197 visitors.

"It was great in the beginning and great at the end," said Brienna Schuette, fair spokeswoman. "In the middle, the extreme heat and humidity kept some people away or diverted their plans till the end of the fair to come and visit us, when the weather sort of eased up for us."

It appears the 2013 edition of the fair was the third hottest on record, measured by average daily temperature -- 88.2 degrees. There was a run of six days in a row over 90 degrees. And it got pretty muggy. Some days, dew points were in the 70s.

"As soon as the weather broke, when it got back in the low 90s, high 80s, it seemed to pick up," said Scott Logelin, who manges the O'Gara's bar and restaurant."

O'Gara's was in the black at the fair, though Logelin won't reveal how much.

Some merchants said sales were down this year because fewer people came out to the fairgrounds. The previous three years of the fair were some of the best ever for sales at Peterson's Pork Chops, said vendor Mike Peterson. But this year was more in line with the average.

"The first nine days of heat were horrible," he said. "But overall, it wasn't so bad with the last weekend being fairly decent. I think I may be only down 15 to 20 percent. So, it's come back somewhat. It really helped."

Other merchants said they were happy with how they did, given the heat.

"It was fun as usual," said Joe Berns who, with his family, sells fairy, pirate and other make-believe clothing for kids. "But the heat scared a lot of the kids away. Like you might expect, fewer customers had a slightly negative effect on sales."

Some merchants say they did even better this year despite the fall-off in attendance - such as the French Meadow Bakery, owned by Chris Gleize.

"We didn't really see much of a reduction in business," Gleize said. "People were lining up at the door every morning. It was a great, great fair. Every year, we try to do better than we did the year before and this was definitely not the exception."

It'll be several weeks before the fair discloses the total sales for fair merchants. But most of the nearly 800 businesses at the fair don't make a lot of money. A few food vendors do a couple of hundred thousand dollars in sales. One - cookie maker Sweet Martha's -- tops $2 million. But the average sales for a food vendor is only about $55,000. And that's before taxes, expenses -- and the double digit cut the fair gets.

Chart: Minnesota State Fair daily attendance, 2011-2013