Image: Illinois State Fair
Seth Perlman  /  AP file
Organizers of the Illinois State Fair in Springfield say the theme of this year's 11-day event is family tradition. But it might as well be affordability. With gas prices around $4 a gallon, fair officials hope the $3 daily admission and a list of free activities draw visitors from across the state.
updated 8/5/2008 12:16:28 PM ET 2008-08-05T16:16:28

Organizers of the Illinois State Fair say the theme of this year's 11-day event is family tradition. But it might as well be affordability.

Fair officials are offering a $3 admission fee and a list of free activities in hopes of attracting visitors from across the state whose vacation plans are being tempered this summer by the high price of gas.

"Stay in the state, stay in the area and come to the Illinois State Fair," said Fair Manager Amy Bliefnick.

State fair organizers from Maine to California are promoting their events as low-cost alternatives to pricier vacations.

The Missouri State Fair has built its promotion strategy around "affordable family fun," said marketing director Tammie Nichols. The fair added a $5-after-5 o'clock discounted admission and will offer $2 admission on Aug. 14. Full-price admission is $8 for adults.

"We saw what was coming because of the economy," Nichols said. "We hope families will choose the Missouri State Fair as part of their vacation plans this summer."

Despite their marketing strategies, fair organizers nationwide are feeling the pinch of a sliding economy.

Ohio State Fair organizers eliminated expensive nightly fireworks shows and bought fewer television ads in an effort to cut costs, while offering admission bargains to boost attendance.

In Maine, the Bangor State Fair held prices to last year's level and eliminated a $50 hookup fee for recreational vehicles, said Fair Director Mike Dyer. Still, attendance is down about 5 percent, he said. And a rainy Thursday was no help.

"We're as gloomy as the sky I'm looking at right now," he said.

In North Dakota, attendance at this summer's state fair dropped by about 9,000 from last year, officials said.

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State fair officials in Nebraska have emphasized affordability in direct-mail ads to residents. The upcoming fair has a new $5 before 5 p.m. admission price.

At the Illinois State Fair, the number of livestock exhibitors may be down because of the high price of gas and animal-feed, said state Department of Agriculture spokesman Jeff Squibb.

"Obviously a trip to the fair would just add expenses," he said.

Even with fewer livestock exhibits, the fair has much to offer, organizers said. Besides about 300 food vendors, rides, harness races, and truck and tractor pulls, there will be daily concerts — ZZ Top, country stars Brooks & Dunn and pop singer Fergie among them — with tickets ranging from $30 to $38.

A few days after the Illinois State Fair in Springfield closes, another begins in the rural community of Du Quoin, about 125 miles to the south.

Assistant Fair Manager Norm Hill doesn't believe the nation's stumbling economy will dent attendance, which he says generally is 300,000 to 350,000. The Du Quoin event starts with a preview Aug. 22 and runs through Sept. 1.

Fairgoers appear to be conserving by holding back on buying tickets to the grandstand events, which in Du Quoin cost up to $30 a person, Hill said. Still, state fairs are a good value, he said.

"It's just a fun time," he said. "It's family entertainment and I expect them to come."

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