Well before the gates opened at the South Carolina State Fair Wednesday afternoon, the long line of guests waiting to get inside and the stream of cars leading into the parking lot were signaling a big day.
For nearly half the years since it added an extra day and began offering a $1 opening day admission in 2006, the fair has been greeted with rain or overcast skies. But on Wednesday, sunny conditions and economic-minded fans combined to produce one of the strongest openings in years.
We hope they keep coming, state fair manager Gary Goodman said shortly after the crowds poured through the gates at 3 p.m. and began helping themselves to food, exhibits and the long line of rides on the Midway.
That wish appeared to come true early as the fairgrounds parking was closed by 6:30 p.m., leaving officials hopeful of reaching the 42,000 opening-day attendance record set two years ago. Final attendance numbers were not available early Wednesday night.
Columbias Maria Salaedo and her 8-year-old daughter Rosana were the first to come through the Rosewood Drive gate Wednesday after getting in line just after 2 p.m.
I was surprised (to be the first) said Salaedo, who was making her second trip to the fair. And while she was looking forward to visiting the cows, chickens and other animals in the livestock area, Rosana was eager to hop on the kiddie car ride.
Salaedo said Wednesdays $1 admission special was a big incentive to coming on opening day. Normal admission is $10 for ages 6 to 54.
That makes a big difference, she said.
Francine Hickman of Columbia ventured out with her sister Jannise Joe and another friend. As in past years, her first stop was the Teriyaki stand, where she ordered a combination plate.
I always come to this particular booth right here, Hickman said. And then I eat some fried mushrooms afterwards. I come just for the food. That is it. I love it.
Hickman plans to come back next Thursday to sample some other foods before heading back to the Teriyaki stand.
On the Midway, guests were taking advantage of pay-one-price ride day, and many eyes were glued on Speed. The 125-foot-high ride debuted this year and spins at 13 revolutions a minute while packing 3.5 Gs of force.
Not me, said John Dukate, who moved to the area with his wife, Nancy, four months ago, as the two looked up at the ride. Theyd have my lunch. But its fun to watch.
But Gray and Mariana Warr were all smiles after taking the ride for a whirl.
That was awesome, he said. The people behind me were screaming.
The fair weather outlook is good the next several days, with daytime highs expected in the 70s to the lower 80s through the weekend. The next chance of rain isnt until Monday.