A working group has been established to determine the best practices to be followed if county fairs are to be held in Ohio this summer.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, an avid fairgoer who lives in Greene County, told the News-Sun he wants to see that include at minimum junior fair projects and related events even if the necessity to continue social-distancing practices to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus precludes a full fair with rides, concessions and grandstand entertainment.
“What I’m suggesting at least right now is fairboards start thinking about how they can conduct a junior fair,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “How they can retain the essence of fairs, which is the competition with livestock and other 4-H projects. How they can do that and protect people, which would mean certainly the fair would look in all likelihood different, but it seems to me counties ought to be able to figure out how to conduct that junior fair.”
That was welcome news to Clark County Fairgrounds Executive Director Dean Blair since as of now the stay-at-home order state residents are under until at least May 29 would make having any type of fair impossible because it limits gatherings to less than 10 people.
“This is the first I’ve seen him officially encourage a junior fair only, so now that is enlightening,” Blair said.
At this point, the Clark County Fairboard is still planning a full fair to take place July 24-31, but Blair said an event with only animals and other projects could be done if necessary.
However, that would create a financial hardship for the agricultural society.
“If it is just an animal-only fair, do you even have an admission charge in that case?” Blair wondered. “As you take away all these income producing things, and you have the expense of the animal show, I think the Ohio Fair Managers Association has stated if I remember correctly that can be a recipe for bankruptcy for Ohio fairs if you’re not very, very cautious.
“So I know that our board is very concerned. We want to put on a fair. We have every intention of putting on a fair to the full extent the law will allow us. And for example, we still have a full fair planned, but we want to make sure financially and fiscally that we’re very responsible so that we don’t just get to do this fair, that we do the next 100 fairs.”
Eric German, a spokesman for the Greater Ohio Showman’s Association, said his group hopes to see counties able to do as much as possible to stage a full fair.
“Everyone who has grown up in the fair business loves junior fairs, but the things that pay the bills are the rides and concession income and income from that part of the midway that helps support the fair, so I think fair managers are going to have a hard time supporting just a junior fair only without the income stream from rides, games and concessions,” German said.
Blair also noted any fair in the state having rides this summer could be further complicated by the news this week that massive state budget cuts necessitated by the projected drops in revenue led the Ohio Department of Agriculture to lay off ride safety inspectors.
In an email, ODA director Dorothy Pelanda confirmed that move but said it is temporary.
“We stand ready to bring our amusement ride safety staff back to work once it is deemed safe to operate amusement parks and ride-oriented events,” Pelanda said. “Amusement ride inspections are critical for the safety of Ohioans. When events and places with rides are once again operational, we will have inspectors in place to inspect them prior to opening.”
Blair said in April the Clark County Fair Board could wait until around the beginning of July to determine final plans for the fair, but subsequently it has decided it would need to know what kind of event to plan by early June.
“We have to decide what the fair is going to look like because we need to obviously notify everyone we’re doing business with or that is providing a service for that fair,” Blair said. “Case in point: To be objective with the cleaning services and the rides company and all the vendors, we just have to tell them by that first week of June what to expect and if they’re coming.”
For now, the board in Clark County and those across the state are still waiting to find out from the state what that might be, something Blair said is frustrating.
“Everybody else in the whole state admires the fact that there is a task force doing this finally, but I’m not gonna kid you, as one might imagine we’re a little disappointed that this didn’t happen maybe a month ago,” Blair said. “We understand it’s a tough situation, though, and everybody’s trying to be as safe as they can.”
DeWine has stressed safety all along in trying to guide the state through a pandemic that hit in March and figures to be felt for the rest of the year, if not longer.
“Fran and I are big fans of county fairs,” DeWine said. “All eight of our kids were in 4-H, so I would hope that we would be able to at a minimum have a fair that is focused on young people, but we’ll see what comes from the working group.”