New keiki rides, more hands-on demonstrations and entertainment and the largest robotics competition ever are just some of the highlights of this year's Maui Fair, which gets under way Thursday.
"I think this year in particular, because it's our 90th year, everyone feels its more of a significant fair," said Sherri Grimes, the fair's managing director.
Everyone from vendors to volunteers are stepping up their game for the 90th Maui Fair, "A Timeless Tradition," which runs through Sunday at the War Memorial Complex, she said.
E.K. Fernandez ride operator Jolane Josiah hooks a plastic skirt around the base of Pharaoh’s Fury on Tuesday afternoon.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
For example, the Orchidland will feature a fair theme, complete with carousel, Grimes said.
When visiting the 50th State Fair on Oahu over the summer, Grimes said she got to go "ride shopping" and will add two new keiki rides to the Maui Fair. The new rides are Jeeps and Volkswagens and quad runners that younger children can pretend to drive.
Seeing Maui County go through an economic slump for the past several years, Grimes said fortunes may be turning around for the county and, in turn, the fair.
"I think that attendance will surpass last year," she said earlier this week. "I say that based on the other fairs, the other Neighbor Island fairs, they all report that this year's (attendance) was better than the years before. I can only think positive on that note."
Last year, attendance was at 92,791, a 3 percent increase from 2010, but still short of the 93,400 tally in 2009 and the 96,083 total in 2008.
In 2010, fair officials said the threat of rain and the poor economy may have chased people away, with unofficial attendance numbers hovering around 90,300 that year.
But on Monday, Grimes' spirits were high as she spoke about the new and improved additions at Maui's largest four-day event.
Grimes is building on last year's addition of the Events Arena, featuring events with seating on bleachers in front of the Soichi Sakamoto Pool.
The arena will host demonstrations and entertainment by Maui nonprofit groups and will include dance performances, marital arts, orchid education and the eighth annual Chili Cook-Off contest featuring Maui Fire Department teams versus Maui's professional chefs from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Chili bowls will be on sale for $1.
The event is a benefit for the Shriners Children's Hospital Transportation Fund.
"I wanted to bring in more educational; more interactive types of things," Grimes said of the Events Arena.
The arena will feature Maui Taiko drumming, Zumba, Korean pop dance and dog training, to name a few events.
Grimes said that, unlike last year, the events will run in the evenings when it's cooler, instead of during the day.
She said that if there's anything "near and dear" to her heart at the fair, it's the fifth annual Robo Tech Maui Expo & Competition on Saturday.
The event showcases the future of robotics and student achievements in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The competitions take place at the Baldwin High School gymnasium with the Robo Tech opening ceremony and competitions from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The AIA Maui Lego Building Competition will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Grimes said 44 schools from across the state will compete in the Maui Fair VEX Robotics 2012 Regional Tournament.
"So far that's the biggest," Grimes said of the amount of teams participating in the fair.
She added that four of the teams competing will advance to the world competition.
Many teams are flying in and competing at the Maui Fair because of the opportunity to advance to the next level. She added that teams are also eager to compete on Maui because, if they lose, they will still be able to compete in other competitions off-island to advance.
Grimes said that she is pleased with the progress the robotics competition has made at the fair.
Five years ago, she brought robotics to light at the fair, with just displays. The second year, she featured one robotics type of program, the VEX robotics.
Then from the third year of fair the program, a regional tournament was held at the fair because of the large number of participants.
"I wanted to use the Maui Fair and bring out the educational part of things," Grimes said.
For more information see www.mauifair.com.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@maui news.com.