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More people but fewer faces

Published August 14. 2010 09:00AM

The 2010 U. S. Census likely will show that Pennsylvania has over two million more people than it did in 1950.

But you'd never know it by the attendance at public events.

Church festivals and civic celebrations don't draw the crowds they once did. In the 1950s, special events were packed. But that's not the case today.

The trend is seen nationally, too.

According to the folks at NASCAR, attendance has dropped in 14 of the first 19 races of the season. NASCAR figures to sell one million fewer tickets this year than in 2003.

Some blame it on the recession. NASCAR says their demographics appeal to a fan base of middle class Americans, a group affected by the economic downturn.

Another factor might be the oppressive heat we've had this summer.

Still, the trend in poor attendance for virtually all public events was apparent last year as well, and even the year before.

This year, I noticed smaller crowds at all of the summer events I attended, and it didn't matter if those events were costly or cheap.

Most recently, I visited Das Awkscht Fescht in Macungie, traditionally one of the largest outdoor car shows in the country. The crowd was half of what it used to be. There were fewer cars on display and fewer vendors, too. As I walked past vendors, I heard a few making comments such as "nobody is buying" and "this is the worst I've seen it."

The event's admission fee was $7 per person, with another $4 to park the car. In my opinion, the price tag of $11 is probably too steep for most families. A family of four including two children aged 16 and 18 would need to cough up $32 to park the car and walk through the gate. That's just too expensive.

But attendance at inexpensive events has been equally poor.

I spent a day at a July block party in center city Reading in which the admission and food were entirely free. The Reading Museum annually hosts the event as a way to thank their neighbors. They offer free entertainment and free kielbasa, hot dogs, soda, chips and other treats. At this party, you can leave your money at home. You can't beat free, but it didn't matter.

Only a few dozen people showed. Granted, the weather was 94 degrees and muggy. But I figured there'd be plenty of youngsters in Reading who'd want to take advantage of the free goodies and a fun afternoon of free entertainment.

Anytime a family can eat for free - especially during a recession - it should be a crowded affair. But that didn't happen and I don't know why.

Eckley Miners Village continues to struggle with attendance at their events. I worry about the future of the place.

Similarly, other volunteer organizations and churches are finding smaller crowds at their festivals, bazaars and celebrations.

This is a dangerous trend as these groups use the events to raise much-needed operating revenue.

The population has grown over the past 60 years. There's no question about that. There are more cars than ever, along with crowded roads and traffic jams. But it doesn't show at the NASCAR race track, nor at community festivals or public gatherings.

Pennsylvania has more people, but fewer faces.

Highways are crowded but destinations aren't. People complain about the price of gas, yet they're still driving.

But I can't figure out where they're going.

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