By WES SANDER

Capital Press

The Cal Expo board of directors on Friday, Oct. 9, shifted the dates of next year's state fair a month earlier than usual.

At its meeting, the board voted 8-2 to set the dates for the 2010 fair for July 14-Aug. 1. For many years, the fair's two-week run has occurred in late August and early September, ending on Labor Day.

In recent years, school districts have increasingly shifted their school year starts earlier into August, before the fair. Cal Expo staff blames that trend for the fair's decreasing revenues.

Board members largely agreed that a mid-summer run would open greater opportunities for upping weekday attendance among grade schoolers on summer vacation. Board member Richard Cuneo said shifting the dates won't raise attendance by itself, but will open the opportunity for doing so.

"I don't think the reason (for greater attendance) will be the date, I think the reason (is something) we will have to generate," Cuneo said. Board member Kathy Nakase agreed, saying the promotional efforts of fair staffers have been hampered by the limited pool of potential fair visitors.

"Right now they cannot do the best job they can do because they're dealing with a school schedule that makes it difficult to (plan events)," Nakase said.

Organizers say the fair has attracted an average of around 19,000 visitors a day in recent years, down significantly from the 35,000 it used to attract. In Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties, from which the fair draws much of its attendance, about 400,000 students attend grade school, according to Cal Expo figures.

Board member Steve Beneto, who voted against the change, said the possible gain of drawing more teenagers and children would not compensate for the loss of Labor Day weekend, which has always brought high attendance.

Once the state fair gives up the holiday, other fairs will adjust their schedules to capture it, Beneto said. Once fairgoers become accustomed to that change, Cal Expo will lose any chance of regaining Labor Day in the future, Beneto said.

"It's the biggest screw-up that ever happened in the California State Fair," Beneto said. "I think we gave away the store."

Staff writer Wes Sander is based in Sacramento. E-mail: wsander@capitalpress.com.

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