Ohio’s early fairs planning for summer, but prepared to adapt

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people walk up and down the midway at a fair.
The midway at the Canfield Fair in 2019. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

Organizers for June Ohio county fairs are in the home stretch of planning, and say, despite lingering unknowns, things look promising for the 2021 season.

This time last year, early fairs were still waiting on guidelines from the state and trying to figure out how to adapt to a global pandemic situation that was changing almost every day. Now, with initial guidelines released in March and experience from running at least partial fairs in 2020, they are on better footing for the upcoming fair season.

“I think we’re all cautiously optimistic at this point,” said Lynette Dauch, president of the Harrison County Agricultural Society, in Cadiz.

Full fairs

Many fairs are planning on full fairs — junior and senior shows, rides, concessions, grandstand events and other typical events.

On April 8, Ohio combined other state guidelines into one order, which did not include the outdoor grandstand limits in the March fair guidelines. Current state guidelines include limitations on indoor capacity, sanitizing, social distancing, masks and signage reminding visitors to follow the guidelines.

“We’re pretty much wide open, except for that,” said Von Cremeans, president of the Pickaway County Fair Board, in Circleville.

Some organizers have concerns about capacity limits.

“We usually have a pretty full grandstand for our events,” said Kevin Wilson, secretary for the Putnam County Agricultural Society, in Ottawa. “If we can only sell 25% of the tickets for that event, financially, that will hurt the fair.”

Uncertain

Dauch said the fair board is aware the situation could still change by the time the fair begins June 21.

“We learned that last year,” Dauch said. “We’re ready for it this year.”

While Harrison County organizers have most contracts taken care of and are ready to go with the animal shows, they have been hesitant to put out the fair book. Their May meeting is coming up soon, and after that, they’ll most likely be ready to move forward.

Dauch said the board included clauses in contracts that protect the fair from financial hardship, due to changes in the public health situation or regulations.

“We all hope that everything will be a go,” she said. “Our people are ready for it.”

Cases

COVID-19 case numbers have gone up and down this spring. Gov. Mike DeWine has said he will lift all state pandemic restrictions if case numbers fall to 50 per 100,000 people for two weeks. That number was at about 185, as of April 22.

Wilson is hoping to see cases go down by summer. The Putnam County Fair begins June 21.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that our fair is safe for everyone,” he said.  “We don’t want to be a COVID spreading event.”

Heather Cooper, secretary for the Paulding County Fair Board, in Paulding, said the fair will make adjustments to some events, like requiring reservations and having boxed lunches for its senior day. Vaccination rates going up will also help, she said.

“Everybody may not choose to come, but [the fair is] a yearly tradition. I think people are just ecstatic that some of these things that were canceled or partially canceled last year are coming back this year,” Cooper said. “Our county is doing really well on the rate of transmission, so that’s a good thing.”

Communication

Dauch and other fair organizers applauded earlier state guidelines and more communication about concerns and regulations for fairs.

“This year, it’s been a lot easier because [the guidelines] came out in March,” Cooper said. “Last year, we got regulations a week before our fair.”

Paulding County Fair officials started planning for 2021 early, basing their plans on last year’s guidelines, but with the understanding that they were planning on a full fair instead of only a junior fair, Cooper said.

At one point, the Pickaway County Fair Board was a little behind in the planning process, since board members were waiting to find out details about guidelines for 2021. But now, Cremeans said, they are almost ready to go and are just putting on the final touches before the fair begins June 19.

Community

The Harrison County Fair got enough funding from junior fair show sponsors last year that they are in a good position for this year. Fair board members also personally took care of some of the behind the scenes work that they normally would have hired someone for.

“We were very blessed with the fact that sponsors still came through,” Dauch said. “We buckled down last year.”

The fair also got support from grants and county commissioners to make upgrades to the fairgrounds.

In Paulding County, a local company donated barrels of sanitizer to the fair. The fair also used some of the funding it received last year to buy hand sanitizers, soap and wash stations.

While the fair has seen some financial losses, they have been manageable so far. Community donations, reaching about $150,000, have also helped with things like updating the 130-year-old grandstand and running the fair this year.

Putnam County has also seen an enthusiastic response from the community and junior fair members, Wilson said. While the fair brings in some entertainment, much of it is local, so booking hasn’t been too big of a challenge.

“They’re ready to get going; ready to get back out into the fair circuit,” Wilson said.

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