2020 Clay County Fair postponed
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SPENCER-Uncertainties surrounding how to carry out a fair drawing more than 300,000 people during a world-wide pandemic year, led to the postponement of the 2020 Clay County Fair.
Fair Manager Jeremy Parsons said the decision came emotionally and heavily for the fair’s executive committee, who gathered information via email surveys to past fairgoers -along with information from surveys sent out by Spencer Mainstreet to people in the Spencer and outlying areas, from the fair’s larger board of members and others. They also were in regular communication with Clay County Public Health and have been following CDC guidelines all along, which all combined to lead up to this decision.
Parsons likened the postponement to a person who was seriously ill.
“For weeks the fair has been in ‘hospice,’ but now it’s time to say goodbye,” he explained. “We have gathered information, talked with public health authorities and with our partners, all in an attempt to fulfill the fair’s mission of providing a safe family atmosphere in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. After exploring all options we simply cannot.”
Survey results showed:
- 30 percent of people said they are not sure when they would feel comfortable attending a large event; Parsons called that “a chunk.”
- An overall uncertainty about fairgoers’ feeling of comfort in specifically attending the fair during a pandemic, with only 50 percent saying they would feel comfortable.
- A large percentage indicating the need for much higher attention paid to cleaning and sanitation throughout the fairgrounds in the midst of a pandemic, which Parsons said would create a muti-thousand-dollar extra expense for the fair.
Others whom Parsons was concerned about were the 1,000 volunteers it takes to make the fair happen, since a large percentage of them are retired, and within the age group of people who (right now) should not leave their homes.
Along with that, Parsons said there were service organizations and show superintendents who reported that half or more of their volunteers and judges in their departments said they would not feel comfortable coming to the fairgrounds to carry out their duties. Parsons also questioned what would happen if he or key staff members, key volunteers, groups of experienced volunteers, etc. tested positive and needed to be quarantined in the days leading up to -and during -the fair.
He said with uncertain numbers of people attending the fair and uncertain numbers of people who could (or even should) volunteer to do their jobs there, along with the added expenses of additional sanitation and questions surrounding how to manage social distancing inside exhibit and commercial exhibit buildings, show buildings, livestock arenas, free entertainment tents and in the grandstand-combined with the pressures of needing to start advertising for the fair and its concerts with an unknown outcome for attendance, and the extra difficulty in finding volunteers during a pandemic -it seemed the best thing to simply wait until next year, hoping the pandemic is gone by then.
“We don’t know what Covid-19 will look like in September -we can only make decisions based on what we know today,” said Parsons. “It’s hard to put on a fair (financially) with only 50 percent of people saying they would feel comfortable coming.”
Parsons said the last survey providing information on the economic impact the fair has on the Spencer community and surrounding area was done in 2015, but it showed the fair had a $6 million impact on the local economy, including monies generated by the fair for the city and county through hotel/motel taxes; hotel and motel revenues themselves, along with community vendors who are ‘mom and pop’ businesses, and other businesses on and off the fairgrounds during the fair’s usual nine-day run.
He said service organization monies normally generated and dispensed to the community through service projects will also not happen now.
Parsons said the fair itself will also lose money, losing three-quarters of its annual income.
“We are going to have to be wise and make smart choices in 2021 in order to do a fair that everyone loves,” he said. “Right now we could not find a way to give you the ‘World’s Greatest County Fair’ experience -it would be an event you would not recognize, and we don’t want you to feel short-changed. When you can’t live up to your reputation, you have to really think about why we’re doing this.”
Parsons said grandstand ticket buyers who have already purchased tickets can either hold them until next year, or monies can be refunded. The same will be true with commercial vendors. Announcements will be forthcoming as to which grandstand acts will return for 2021.
He said the 4-H and FFA county only livestock shows will take place this fall, but the shows will not be affiliated with the Clay County Fair. They will be under the auspices of ISU/Clay County Extension. No district livestock shows will take place.
Parsons said speedway races scheduled to happen during the fair will still go on, since they are part of a larger-umbrella schedule of racing. Those races always happened to fall during the Clay County Fair. He said it’s also a matter of weighing the health and safety of 1,000 people coming to an event for a few hours where they can social distance themselves, versus 300,000 people there for nine days.
“This is a momentous day and a sad day,” said Parsons in his opening statement to media on Friday. “No one wants to postpone the fair, but it comes back to the fact that we love the fair so much that we have to protect our fair and our fairgoers When this is all over, we know that Clay County, northwest Iowa and the entire region will need our fair more than ever. And just as we have done for 103 years, we will be ready.”
This is the first time since World War II that the fair has been postponed. Parsons said there were four years with that suspension, so this makes the fifth time in the 103-year history of the fair that is has had to wait.
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