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Dignitaries cut the ribbon to open the 2019 Du Quoin State Fair Aug. 23 in front of the Grandstand.

DU QUOIN — More than 123,500 people attended the 2019 Du Quoin State Fair, a 23% increase over last year's attendance of just over 100,000 people, according to a news release Tuesday from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Attendance in 2019 was the highest in at least four years, officials said.

Overall fair attendance was 123,562 in 2019. Attendance was down nearly 300 people on opening night, Aug. 23, with an attendance of 12,148. On the following Saturday, Aug. 24, fair attendance was up 4,210 over last year at 18,291. It also was the highest attended day for the entire fair, with Aug. 31 a close second at 17,799.

Krista Lisser, of Illinois Department of Agriculture, said since there was no admission fee, fair attendance was calculated based on parking. They guessed each car had an average of two adults and one child, so the number of parked vehicles was multiplied by 2.7 to get attendance.

"The 2019 Du Quoin State Fair was a record hit, with double-digit increases in attendance, grandstand ticket sales and revenue -- but more importantly, the people of Southern Illinois had a great time enjoying everything the fair had to offer," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in the release. "My administration has invested in improving the Du Quoin fairgrounds, and I'm committed to making this historic fair successful for decades to come, so that this economic engine can continue to benefit not only Du Quoin, but all of Southern Illinois."

Fair Manager Josh Gross said he wants to bring the fair back to what it was when he was a child -- an event you didn't want to miss. He also wants to see growth, but is realistic about the numbers.

In the old days, Du Quoin State Fair drew 300,000 people annually. Last year, the fair drew a third of that. Gross has a more realistic goal in mind of 180,000 to 200,000 in attendance.

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To get there will take the same kind of growth each of the next two years.

"Honestly, I would have been happy if attendance had been flat. This exceeded my expectations," Gross said. "If we can get to 180,000 in three years, it would be spectacular."

Gross added that the jump in attendance in 2019 shows the fair is moving in the right direction.

The increased attendance follows a key decision by fair officials this year to cut the $2 admission cost, making it free for all to attend.

Other indicators also demonstrate the fair's improvements this year. The grandstand saw a 26% increase in tickets sales, with 15,800 tickets sold; Grandstand revenue increased 37% this fair season, generating more than $97,000.

The 2020 Du Quoin State Fair will be Aug. 28 through Sept. 7.

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