Gov. Phil Scott announced on Friday all fairs, festivals and mass gatherings on fair grounds have been canceled through the rest of the year.
Scott and other members of his administration have been participating in press conferences three times a week to announce updates in the state’s effort to flatten the curve of the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. The guidance for fairs was announced on Friday.
Robert Congdon, president of the Rutland County Agricultural Society, said members of the society were “of course, saddened.”
“We were really keeping a positive outlook. I was really hopeful that things would turn the corner and we would be able to proceed and have our events this year,” he said.
The fair was scheduled for Aug. 18-22. It would have been the 175th Vermont state fair.
“I think for me that’s the largest piece of the disappointment. We were really working and had a great line-up in place for the 175th. We’re doing our best now to take — and obviously this news is very fresh — but we will be working hard over the next several weeks to get the 175th plan for next year now and we’ll be able to have a great fair next year with a lot of the entertainment that we had lined up for this year. We look forward to working with all those folks to make sure that happens,” Congdon said.
According to Congdon, late spring and early summer events planned for the fairground have already been canceled.
“Truthfully, we are still hopeful that some of our smaller events that use our fairgrounds will still be able to go on within the guidelines,” he said
Mary Cohen, executive director of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, said she wasn’t sure what economic impact the fair has on the area or what businesses rely on fair visitors, but said she was concerned it was an indication of how Vermont might struggle to bring back tourism.
The Vermont State Fair organization announced the decision on its Facebook page on Friday afternoon.
“Please stay tuned as we will be releasing announcements in the coming weeks regarding other events we had booked. We can confirm this means no July 4th Summer Smash (a demolition derby) and the fair scheduled for August is also canceled,” the post stated.
Congdon said he understood 2020 wouldn’t be the first year the fair had been canceled, but he wasn’t certain exactly what years it had happened before.
Congdon said he believes the fair skipped a year for the Spanish influenza epidemic, which took place in 1918, and one of the world wars.
The point, he added, was that a cancellation of the fair was not unprecedented but hadn’t happened for “years and years.”
Congdon said organizers weren’t shocked by the decision but were still somewhat surprised by the way it was shared with the public.
“Let me put it this way, we were unaware that the announcement or that a final decision was coming today,” he said.
On May 15, representatives of all the fairs in Vermont, along with Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services and Anson Tebbetts, secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, took part in a remote conference to discuss what might happen, according to Congdon. Those organizing fairs shared their opinions but Congdon said they weren’t told a decision had been made.
However, Congdon said he and his colleagues understood a decision or guidance might be announced this week.
“Unfortunately, as the governor made it clear today in his executive order, large gatherings this year are out of the question and because they’re out of the question, that obviously affects all the fairs in Vermont,” Congdon said.
Congdon said agricultural society are unhappy because they don’t like to disappoint the area residents who visit the fair as participants or spectators.
“We love our community and we put our event on for our community. Certainly, losing that event and losing the ability to do that for our community is a hard blow to all of us,” he said.
The cancellation of the event will also be an economic hardship for the fair organization, Congdon said.
“Certainly this is a blow to us. We can’t overlook that. I am working with our finance committee to weather the storm. I have a firm belief that we will weather the storm. We will come out the other side and be able to have events in the future. I have no doubt of that. We will pull it off,” he said.