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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County Interstate Fair could be hampered in September by capacity limits. Or not?

Planning a county fair is a full-time, year-round job.

It’s a logistical juggling act. And it’s a lot harder to juggle without knowing exactly what Washington’s COVID-19 guidelines will look like come September.

Last year, the Spokane County Interstate Fair was canceled due to the pandemic.

The fair should happen this year from Sept. 10 through Sept. 19, but it probably won’t be back to normal.

“We may have to take it down to a core concentration of things,” Spokane County Fair and Expo Director Erin Gurtel said. “Maybe it’s a condensed version of the fair.”

If the fair happened today, staff couldn’t allow more than 9,000 people on the fairgrounds at any given time.

Given the fair sees about 200,000 visitors during a 10-day stretch and as many as 40,000 people on Saturdays, that cap could hurt revenues. Gurtel said it’s not an option to run the fair normally if it means losing huge amounts of money.

“We do have to be fiscally responsible with what we’re doing,” she said.

Gurtel told the county commissioners Monday about the challenges facing the fair. She said fair leaders are considering ways to distribute attendance more evenly across the 10 days.

There are a few ways to tweak the fair in order to mitigate the impact of a 9,000-people-at-a-time capacity ceiling.

For one, Gurtel said the fair could offer discounted tickets during weekdays. That would incentivize people to come during the week, which would minimize crowds on the weekends.

Grandstand events might have to be modified or pared back. Under the current guidelines, the fair could only have 25% capacity in the bleachers for an event. At the Spokane County Interstate Fair, that would mean 1,300 people in 5,200 seats.

Musical acts, demolition derbies and rodeo audiences might be kept smaller, although there could be a separate section for people who have been vaccinated. Social distancing wouldn’t be necessary in that area, so seating could be denser.

In addition to the COVID-19 limitations, Gurtel said she’s worried about finding enough staff . The fair usually hires 200 temporary workers.

It’s still too early to know exactly what state-level restrictions might look like three months from now.

“We’re optimistic,” Gurtel said. “We hope it’s just going to be an amazing year at the fair and that these guidelines open up enough.”