COLUMBIA, SC — Chanda Jackson was locked in on her destination as she passed through the gates of S.C. State fair just after noon Wednesday.
It had been a year since the Columbia resident last helped herself to one of her favorite fair menu items, and the chicken on a stick at the Teriyaki stand was beckoning.
Oh, this is my plate right here, Jackson said as she prepared to help herself to the full meal that included egg rolls and Tempura.
The lunch bell rang a little earlier for Jackson and other hungry State Fair fans this year, as the fair pushed up the opening time up from 3 p.m. to noon for the first time since launching its $1 opening-day promotion in 2006.
The move was an acknowledgement of the fairs popular lunch-time offerings and followed the urging of several food vendors, State Fair manager, Gary Goodman said.
Lunch is such a popular time at the fair, he explained. We have an advisory committee (of food vendors) and one of the things they said to us was all of us are ready to go at noon. So we considered it and we thought it was a pretty good idea.
Fair patrons apparently did, too. By 2 p.m., more than 5,000 people had entered the gates, even though the Midway rides were not slated to open for another hour.
That was just fine with Columbias Justine Reed, who ventured out Wednesday with her friend Jerry Fore of Marion, to enjoy a stroll through the buildings and a leisurely meal.
I can enjoy myself and relax a little bit and walk around before the big crowd gets here, she said as the two ate a bacon cheeseburger from the Twisted Burger stand.
Food vendors also were excited to have the additional day of business.
Lunch (at the fair) has always been a big positive for the business community, said Cliff Daley, whose Daleys Dogs expanded from two to three stands this year. We have a big following that comes here every year. Its like playing in front of your home crowd.
Elsewhere across the fairgrounds, eager diners were lining up for everything from old favorites like corn dogs, fried dough and Polish sausage to such new items as a Redneck Burger (cheese, bacon, fried bologna, baked beans, potato sticks on a bun) and fried pizza on a stick.
Many visitors like Jackson said they would likely be making multiple stops.
For me, its all about the food, she said.
And while exact calculations were not immediately available, Goodman said the economic benefits of the added day on area food suppliers were substantial, noting such supplies as soft drinks, sugar, apples, potatoes, flour and other ingredients all must be purchased off-site.
And, of course, oil, he added.
By shortly after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, the lines at the ride ticket booths were beginning to grow as fair guests anticipated the opening of the Midway at 3 p.m.
Drew and Elaine Carilli were among those guests, bringing out their six children, ages 2 to 14, to check out some exhibits before taking a few spins.
We got here a little early to walk in the buildings first, Elaine Carilli said. And theyre ready to ride the rides.
As to what they would tackle first, Drew Carilli said it would depend on which lines were shortest.
The State Fair continues through Oct. 20. The short-range forecast is calling for ideal fair weather with moderate temperatures and little to no chance of rain expected in the next 10 days.