The fair’s first night brought a crowd, including a packed house for Wynonna Judd. Official numbers will not be available until after the 10-day run, but vendors said business was booming.
“It went pretty good last night. I think it was up from last year,” said Juan Santa Cruz, manager of Big Bubba’s BBQ, on Saturday.
There was one opening-night glitch. The etickets program to pay for admission by credit card was down for more than an hour, said Adrenna Alkhas, fair spokeswoman.
“People had to pay with cash. It was an inconvenience to them, but we got through it,” Alkhas said. The system came back online at 8 p.m. The fair took to social media to announce the system was down, she said.
Saturday afternoon, families were walking through the exhibits, waving and taking cellphone pictures of children on rides and diving into piles of deep-fried everything.
Toddler Kane Gordon stood in the Wizard’s Challenge fun house, pushing on a wall of plastic pins and shrieking with delight as his cousins pushed them back. Savannah Padrone, watching her 13-month-old son, said the family comes every year.
In another corner of the castle, Steve Ladine of Turlock gave tips to daughter Isabella, 11, as she hauled a waist-high knight around an oversize chessboard. She was playing against her brother, William, 12, a member of the Dutcher Middle School chess team.
Eating lunch under a shady tent, Paul Kayser of Modesto watched his nephews, 4-year-old Quinn Snyder and 7-year-old Kylan Snyder.
“They loved the dog show. It was great. They enjoy the animals,” he said. “I like the boats and the farm equipment.”
A few tables away, Kamren Burns, 5, pulled handfuls of frilly fries – they’re connected potato chips – from a foot-high stack being shared by dad Jake Burns and Amy Campbell.
“I pop wheelies,” Kamren said, with a wide grin. The motorcycle ride for youngsters on the midway was a favorite, explained his father.
The ride also appealed to the sons and nephew of Chief Warrant Officer II Matt Hansen, on leave from his Army base in Virginia. “The boys are having a good time,” he said as the four boys, ages 4 to 9, waved and cheered from their track-tethered motorbikes.
At the livestock ring, 4-H members in white with green bandannas were taking cows through judging as families filling the side bleachers watched intently. Other kids, hanging out in the 4-H barns by their animals, were playing cards and keeping cool under the fans.
“Being as I’ve been here every day of every year for 19 years, I don’t get excited about the rides so much,” said Jacob Avila, 19.
The mix appeals to fair vendor Augie Magdaleno, owner of the cinnamon roll booth that’s been a sweet Stanislaus County Fair staple for decades. Magdaleno and his family travel much of the year, from one event to the next, but the Turlock site is a favorite, he said.
“It’s a true county fair,” Magdaleno said. He likes the single gate price for most events and the all-ages farm animal exhibits. “It’s a great fair. You see the community coming out,” he said.
That community feel remains the fair’s focus, said Stanislaus County Fair board member Rubén Villalobos. “We want to make this a place that’s totally family-friendly.”
The fair is off to a good start, Alkhas said. But the financial health of fairs, like the one just up Highway 99 in San Joaquin County that suspended operations this year, was on her mind as she considered projections for the 10-day run.
“We’re always happy with the numbers we get year-to-year,” Alkhas said. “ We are proud and happy just to be here.”
Bee staff writer Sharon K. Ghag contributed to this report.