Festivals in jeopardy
Fair season almost always signifies the end of summer as people gather in August and September for livestock auctions, carnival rides, outdoor concerts and concession food.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, however, plans for those events have taken a turn.
In May, the Ohio Expositions Commission announced the 2020 Ohio State Fair has been canceled. It was scheduled to run July 29 to Aug. 9 in Columbus. Beyond concern for public health and safety, the commission said it would not be financially practical.
“Knowing how easily the virus spreads in large groups, we believe it is the safest path forward for the health and safety of all Ohioans,” Andy Doehrel, chair of the Ohio Expositions Commission, said in a prepared statement. “The financial ramifications of hosting a reduced-capacity fair would be too great, and we need to protect the great Ohio State Fair for future generations.”
Last year, a Columbus broadcast report showed 934,925 entered the gates during the fair’s 12-day run.
Paul Harris, first vice president of Ohio Fair Managers Association, said the opening of county fairs, meanwhile, is still uncertain, as it is up to each county’s board to make the decision.
Harris said Gov. Mike DeWine has expressed that he would like to keep junior fairs operational, so the children could still have the experience. This, he said, also is not financially responsible for many fairs.
“The governor has made it clear that he’d like to keep junior fairs alive; he’s not really interested in keeping the rest of the fair going,” he said. “But our situation is, the rest of the fair is what pays the bills.”
DeWine said if they open, fairs must maintain social distancing for its visitors, limit crowds, ensure the health of those involved, and make sure the care and welfare of animals are addressed.
Trumbull County Fair board members voted May 21 to cancel that fair, which was scheduled for June 6-12, because it didn’t believe it could make a profit with the expected decreased attendance and was concerned about safely following the state Department of Health guidelines.
The Junior Fair portion of the fair, which features 4-H members and their projects, also was canceled.
Several other county fairs in the state and the Ohio State Fair have also been canceled.
The Canfield Fair still is scheduled for Sept. 2-7.
“Conditions may change over the summer, but we are asking all fair boards to comply with all of the Ohio Department of Health orders in place and the guidelines for other sectors that would also apply to fairs like food service and rides,” DeWine said.
Canfield Fair Board President Ward Campbell recently said plans are going forward “as if we are having the fair.
“We should know more after June 1,” he said.
Campbell said Gov. Mike DeWine has assembled a Fair Advisory Group to look at all aspects of fairs in Ohio and come up with ideas to have or not have segments of fairs. The team was made up of 23 individuals. Among that number were representatives from small, medium and large county fairs.
For large fairs, Canfield was the biggest. Therefore, Canfield Fair manager Bev Fisher was asked, and agreed, to be on the panel.
Campbell was happy to see the results of a survey the fair put on its website, showing 74 percent of the nearly 4,900 people who responded reported they are planning to attend this year’s fair.
Of the 26 percent who said they were not planning to attend, 80 percent said they were concerned about safety. The other reason involved 9.3 percent who said it was because of economic and unemployment related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“There’s been no directive from the governor at this point that says we can’t have a fair, but there hasn’t been any support to say we can either,” Harris of the Ohio Fair Managers Association said. “You can’t just turn it on in three weeks, so the governor is really putting us in a bind.”
If the fairs only operated the junior programs, kids involved in 4-H projects can and market and show their animals and hold a livestock sale.
Harris said to run only the junior program would cost close to $10 million and without gate admission, concessions or grandstand revenue, they would not be able to recapture what was spent.
If fairs operated only a junior fair, Harris said he wouldn’t be surprised if it bankrupted a third of the fairs in Ohio.
He then went on to explain that fairs are considering sharing the purchase of hand sanitizers and limiting people, and discussing further measures to increase safety.
“The experience the 4-H kids get out of it is just priceless,” Harris said.