/ Articles / Concerns about economic impact of COVID-19 lead to cancellation of county fair

Concerns about economic impact of COVID-19 lead to cancellation of county fair

April 28, 2020 by Jamie Taylor

Those area residents holding out hope that late summer events would go on as scheduled had those hopes dash last Wednesday when it was announced the Oneida County Fair, scheduled for July 30 through Aug. 2, will not be held this year.

In a press release announcing the cancellation, fair coordinator Tom Barnett said the impact of the pandemic on area businesses led to the decision to scuttle this year’s event.

“We are very sensitive to the fact that our entire community has been harshly impacted, especially our sponsors,” Barnett said in the release. “It is in their best interest that we do not ask for sponsorships and/or donations from these local businesses after they have taken such a hit. We are also sensitive to the feelings and safety of fairgoers.”

In an interview last Thursday, Barnett elaborated on the decision.

“I had reached out to a few of the sponsors and they told me the situation, and that is what actually made me realize the gravity of everyone’s situation during these lockdowns,” he said. “I have reached out to some vendors like Casa Mexicana and CT’s Deli who usually have booths there. I’ve contacted all our yearly vendors that we get and they all have been extremely understanding.”

He said most of the vendors were “appreciative” that the fair board was taking the action this far in advance and is putting the safety of people first.

In this year’s budget, the Oneida County Board gave just $16,000 to the fair, with the sponsors making up the difference. As of now, it’s unclear what will happen to the money from the county, Barnett said.

“We are actually very unclear of what they want to do with that money. That is totally up to them,” Barnett said. “We have our suspicions that we might be able to roll it into a general fund and use it for next year’s fair. Right now we haven’t talked to the county board beyond letting them know what we’re doing. We haven’t had the discussion on what to do with the funding we’ve received for this year.”

He said the conventional wisdom is while the state’s Safer-At-Home restrictions may be relaxed, it’s not likely they will eliminated even by the end of summer.

“Obviously, we’re concerned about the safety of people, and we’re all watching the media like everyone else, and we’re pretty positive that the large gatherings are not going to be allowed for the rest of the year,” Barnett said. “They’ll open it up to maybe 50 to 100 people, but for the crowd we get, I don’t think they are going to open anything up anytime soon to gatherings of that size.”

He added he hopes to be wrong and everything opens sooner rather than later. But for the fair sponsors, the economic damage has been done.

“Even if they cancel all of the restrictions tomorrow, we still don’t have the funding to put on a fair because our sponsors have been closed all this time, and they just can’t afford it,” Barnett said. “And without their sponsorship, we only get $16,000 from the county, and that pays for some of the port-a-potties and a band. For everything else, we rely on our sponsors; if we don’t have out sponsors, we don’t have a fair.”

He said the total cost of the fair is around $70,000, with the sponsors footing most of the costs.

“We would rather put on a quality fair and have everybody safe, have everyone happy and have a good time then putting on a fair that just doesn’t work,” Barnett said. “A $16,000 fair is not going to be a good fair.”

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at [email protected]

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