By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Correspondent
HARRISBURG — Hundreds of thousands of people braved winter’s bitter cold to visit the state capital for two popular expositions – one of which was revived this year.
The Farm Show – the nation’s largest indoor agricultural exposition – wrapped up Saturday after drawing about 500,000 visitors, said Nicole Bucher, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.
In three weeks, the 24-acre Farm Show complex will again brim with people as the National Rifle Association sponsors the first-ever Great American Outdoor Show.
The NRA event replaces the Eastern Outdoor Show. That event collapsed last year when enthusiasts refused to participate amid controversy about limiting gun sales in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Promoters of the new show are trying to “manage expectations” for crowds during the first year, said Rick Dunlap, director of public relations for the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau. He said the visitor’s bureau anticipates the NRA-sponsored show will eventually outgrow its predecessor.
The Farm Show’s attendance this year was down about 14.5 percent, but that’s measured against a record-breaking crowd of 585,000 people last year.
The Farm Show saw six of its eight busiest days ever during last year’s show, according to parking data compiled by the Department of Agriculture.
For Cambria Chair, business at this year’s show was appreciably slower, owner Joe Rodkey said Friday afternoon.
“But where else are you going to get this kind of a crowd in January?” he asked.
Rodkey didn’t bring chairs to the Farm Show. Heirloom-style furniture made by craftsmen at the Johnstown business would be too bulky to truck to the show. Instead, Cambria Chair was peddling cutting boards and coasters.
Even a down year for the Farm Show is a tremendous economic boon, said Dunlap. The 98-year-old show has 300 commercial vendors and 10,000 exhibitors.
The former Eastern Outdoors Show had about 1,200 vendors. The NRA is expecting about 1,000 at next month’s Great American Outdoor Show.
The visitors bureau calculated that the loss of the outdoors show last year cost the region $44 million in tourism spending – things like hotel rooms and food, Dunlap said.
In the tourism industry, it’s generally accepted that you can double that number to calculate total economic impact, he said.
The Farm Show and the outdoors show are “twin pillars” that boost economic activity in the Capitol Region in what otherwise would be a slow travel season, Dunlap said.