George Boardman: Paid fair attendance a leading economic indicator? |

George Boardman: Paid fair attendance a leading economic indicator?

George Boardman
John Hart/ | The Union

Observations from the center stripe: Pipe dream edition

I HOPE the State of Jefferson issue makes the ballot — heck, I’ll even sign the petition — so we can vote it down and move on to the next pipe dream … YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS from Kazakhstan are visiting Nevada County to learn about economic development? Good luck with that … IF YOU are a fan of sunshine, you better enjoy it while you can. We’re losing 73 minutes of daylight this month … TALK ABOUT frontrunners: Some 49ers season ticket holders are trying to dump those expensive tickets and the seat licenses that go with them just one-quarter of the way through the season … I BELIEVE George W. Bush when he says he was the “decider.” I don’t believe Jeb Bush when he says he’s the “disrupter” … FALSE ADVERTISING: Any nation that calls itself the “Peoples Republic of” isn’t … I ALWAYS think of Daffy Duck when I drive past Persimmon Terrace in Auburn …

This is going to be a good year for the tourism industry in Nevada County.

How do I know? Simple: I just looked at paid attendance at the 2015 Nevada County Fair.

Tourism brings over $300 million into the county in a good year, but we have few ways of tracking the current year.

What evidence we have to work with is either anecdotal, “The restaurants sure seem busy,” or lagging statistics like the transient occupancy tax. Not much for an economist to work with.

But at least in recent years, paid attendance at the county fair has become a good way to take the pulse of our tourism industry. And if the trend holds, this should be a good year.

Paid attendance was down 20 percent from 2009 to 2013, not surprising when you recall the economy tanked in ’09. That year, total tourist spending in the county dropped 9.6 percent to an estimated $274 million, according to the state Travel and Tourism Commission, while the transient occupancy tax dropped a horrendous 14.3 percent to $4.5 million.

But things have been looking up since 2009. Paid attendance at the 2014 fair was 60,574 (out of a total attendance of 89,143), an increase of more than 16 percent from 2013, according to fair officials.

Almost in lock step, tourism spending was up 1.8 percent to $304 million while the occupancy tax surged 11.9 percent to over $6 million.

The fair’s paid attendance was up another 6 percent this year to 64,259 (out of 94,143), and Wendy Oaks, publicist at the fairgrounds, reports that organizers of the Strawberry Music Festival and other events have experienced increased attendance.

“We’ve noticed an increase usage of the grounds and its facility rentals for events,” she added.

You have to like that trend.

Do it yourself

The big paper in the River City recently devoted two pages of a Sunday edition to a review of a steak house where the customers do their own cooking.

The restaurant, Arthur Henry’s Supper Club and Ruby Room in Sacramento, offers you two options if you don’t want to cook the steak yourself: You can eat it raw, or you can get another customer — possibly your spouse — to cook it for you.

Nobody who actually works in the restaurant will do the job.

Call me old fashioned, but this defeats a couple of the reasons people eat out in the first place: To sample a different (and perhaps) better way of preparing the food, and the fleeting luxury of having somebody else cook the meal. (To be fair, Arthur Henry’s doesn’t make you wash the dishes.)

This is part of a trend where retail customers are expected to do more of the work for the same price, propelled by the desire of business operators to keep down labor costs and leverage their investment in computerized business processes.

You can see this in grocery stores, a low margin business where every dollar counts. Many of the major chains are trying to get you to handle the actual checkout yourself.

They encourage you to do this by having fewer checkout clerks, and therefore longer lines. I was debating whether to get into one of those lines at Save Mart in Auburn recently when a friendly store employee encouraged me to try the self-checkout procedure.

“Will I get a discount if I do it myself?” I asked.

No, she said.

“Then why should I do your job?”

She just walked away.

I can afford the luxury of being a semi-rebel because I’m retired and gave up hurrying several years ago, but I can see where a mother who has to pick up junior at school or somebody who’s late for a meeting might be tempted to do the store’s work for them.

But even I can’t escape businesses that want to offer less service for the same price. Wells Fargo quit sending our canceled checks several years ago unless we wanted to pay for the service.

Thanks to the wonderful world of the Internet, I can access all of my old checks online. Fine, I thought at the time; who wants to store all that paper anyway?

Then I got a letter from a collection agency about five years ago asking me to pay the bill of a doctor who had closed his practice and left the area. A search of my records showed I paid the bill and the check was cashed, but the collection agency wanted to see a copy of both sides of the check.

Wells Fargo would provide that to me — for a fee of $2. Why should I pay $2 to prove somebody else screwed up?

On the other hand, if I blew off the demand letter, it might show up on my credit report and cost me more the next time I want to borrow money. I reluctantly paid the $2.

You can bet this trend will continue, eventually filtering down to mom-and-pop operations.

I’ll know the trend has run its course when my barber hands me the scissors and a mirror, and tells me to start cutting.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union.

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