As fairs around the state are being canceled or moved online due to COVID-19, staff at the Spokane Interstate Fair will wait until June to decide whether to continue with the event as planned or to hold a virtual fair.
More than 30 fairs across the state have been completely canceled or moved online already, according to the Washington State Fairs Association.
Many of those communities were expecting their fairs to generate millions of dollars in economic activity from hotel stays, entertainment and spending at the fair.
WSFA President Tom Muchoney said the cancellations have been tough on communities of all sizes and tough on families who were supposed to show and sell animals at the fair.
While fairs do provide economic activity, he said most are much more: a place for church, political and community groups to set up booths and reach people, and an opportunity for children to show animals and their creative work.
“We really are more than cows and cotton candy,” he said.
Last year’s Spokane Interstate Fair broke records with more than 200,000 people walking through the gates during the 10-day event. On the busiest day of the fair, more than 41,000 people walked through the gates, and every other day last year at least 12,000 people attended.
Spokane County Interstate Fair Director Erin Gurtel said she planned to wait until mid-June to decide whether to hold this year’s fair.
She said staff is working on a backup plan if holding an event is unsafe.
The Spokane County Fairgrounds normally hosts events every weekend, but those were canceled in March, just before the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Spokane County. Gurtel said the fairgrounds have remained busy as a location for food bank pickups, COVID-19 testing and isolation.
If holding a fair in September is not feasible, Gurtel said fair staff would consider holding a virtual fair.
“It’s a much smaller scale than the fair, but we still want to be engaged with the community and create a fun interaction,” Gurtel said.
She said staff is still brain-storming ideas for a virtual fair, such as using social media, finding other ways to enter produce and possibly holding an online livestock show or auction as others have done successfully.
Earlier this month the Junior Livestock Show of Spokane held a virtual show after the in-person event was canceled.
Livestock show manager Lynn Cotter said about a third of the participants who had signed up for the original event sent in 90-second videos of themselves showing their animals. Contestants were judged on the quality of their animal, and judges chose a grand champion and a reserve grand champion. All other participants received a blue ribbon.
While there weren’t as many participants as signed up for the original show, a little more than 200 participated. Cotter said she sees it as a success.
“With everything going on and trying to figure out how to do school and everything else online, I don’t think it was a bad turnout at all,” she said.
Cotter said online livestock shows are becoming a trend around the country as fairs are canceled and families are left with show animals they have spent months raising to participate in an event.
Guirtel said staff is thinking through preparations it would have to make to hold a safe fair, including more space between venders, social distancing and more sanitation.
She said they are also having discussions with the Spokane County Health District and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“There’s a lot we’re having to process and consider in making a decision to move forward or put on a bigger and better fair in 2021,” she said. “Public health and safety is very important to us and always has been.”
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