The gates to the 156th Annual Georgia State Fair opened in Macon Saturday.
The week long event is being held during the spring at Central City Park for the second time consecutively this year. It features food, face painting, live entertainment, rides and more, Don Johstono, the fair's organizer, said Saturday.
Johstono says because of years of declining attendance, the event has lost money. He hopes changes this year attract more visitors.
"We have a totally different layout this year," he said, "I think most people that come down are going to be really surprised at what they see and I think they're going to like it."
This year's fair was set up to look more like an amusement or theme park, according to Johstono. He says the new layout increases security and allows visitors to park closer to the fair entrance.
He says they added locally known bands to the entertainment line up and plan to host a Mother's Day party on May 8. He says the fair includes old favorites, like a dog show, clown circus, and petting zoo.
The Macon Exchange Club owns and operates the fair. Johstono says it has been a part of the city's heritage since 1851, but he says, it's in decline. The fair has not generated profits for years (which they donate to local charities), he says, forcing the club to dip into its reserves to cover costs.
"When you have a business such as a fair that continues to lose money you have to look at what are our options," he said. "If you take it from a purely economic standpoint, it makes no sense to keep the fair going, but with the tradition and the heritage that we have, the family entertainment that it offers to the community, the potential for raising money to help the community, it is something we want to do everything we can to make it work."
Last year approximately 125,000 people visited the fair, according to Johstono.
"We really need to see 200,000 this year, I think to make it where we're going to move forward and keep this part of Macon's heritage," he said.
He calls the 2011 fair "pivotal."
"We really have to make a go of it this year or I think maybe the Georgia State Fair like so many other things in Macon may become a thing of the past, and that's really sad," he said.
Johstono says the club moved the date of the annual fair from fall to spring in 2010, after facing competition from the Georgia National Fair in Perry, that was also held in October.
"We did that last year and had moderate success," he said, "We're hoping it gets even better this year."
Jasmine Bailey, of Macon, says she remembers attending the Georgia State Fair as a child. She visited the fair Saturday with her family.
"I always had a good time, so I'm glad I get a chance to experience it with my niece," Bailey said.
Bailey says she'd be disappointed to see such a long-running event come to an end.
"I want her (niece) to have something she can look forward to year after year," Bailey said.
Tickets are $5 at the gate. The fair is open daily until Sunday, May 8.
Organizers say all fair proceeds go to local charities, with an emphasis on groups that promote child abuse prevention.