PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Although drivers complained about traffic coming into the South Florida Fair over the weekend, businesses said they benefited from customers at the fair over the last two weeks.
Fair officials worked with the School District of Palm Beach County to secure additional parking spots for Saturday after it ran out of spots last week. According to fair officials, a new warehouse near the fairgrounds decreased the number of parking spots by a couple hundred.
"This fair was a little bit better than past fairs," said Cynthia Rolle with Purple Shrimp. "We do see the influx of people who are coming in, moving here. That's definitely making a difference."
She said her Cajun restaurant has benefited from the additional people and believes many recently moved to the area based on conversations with her customers.
"There are people here that's moved here," Rolle said. "We saw it before the fair and we definitely confirmed it here at the fair."
WPTV's Ethan Stein saw cars sit in traffic waiting to get into the fair, but traffic was smaller than the previous weekend.
Victoria Chouris, who is the president and CEO for the South Florida Fair, said the fair's second weekend is often the strongest for attendance. She said parking with likely become a priority for the fair moving forward, but there aren't many options.
"That's the challenge. There aren't very many options," Chouris said. "But we're looking at surrounding land to see if there's anywhere we can use as a shuttle site [or] shuttle location. I think shuttling people to the fair from a location is the answer."
Chouris said a shuttle was offered at a previous event, but it was eliminated during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said a parking garage isn't an option because those are too expensive for a part-time event.
According to the nonprofit's 990 form for the fiscal year ending in 2023, the annual fair has revenue of more than $16 million. But, Chouris said, the money is used to continue operating the fairgrounds and the goal is to build a new building.
Chouris is retiring from the South Florida Fair and Palm Beach County Expositions Inc. this year after about 40 years. She said her last day at the fair created many emotions.
"So many mixed emotions today. Very, very bittersweet," Chouris said. "I've been blessed with a 39-year career at the South Florida Fair. I loved every minute and now I'm passing the torch."
The fair had different events to celebrate her retirement on Sunday. Chouris said Matthew Wallsmith, the nonprofit's CFO, will become the next top official at the fair.
According to previous WPTV reporting, fair officials hoped more than 400,000 people would attend the fair.
The fair also required people under 18 years old to have a parent or guardian if they attended the fair after 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for the first time this year. It also had a new clear bag policy for any bag larger than 6 x 9 inches.
However, those new rules didn't stop multiple fights from breaking out at the fair last Saturday. A spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said deputies used "less lethal" weapons to fire into a large chaotic crowd of 200 people, who were hostile and unruly. Five children were arrested after the events.
Fair officials boosted security after those fights and urged people to not show up if they wanted to cause trouble.