By Matt Reese
On May 21, the Ohio State Fair announced that the event will not be taking place in 2020 — rides, fair food, junior fair, Smokey Bear, open shows, friends in the show barn, everything is canceled.
In recent weeks, the Ohio State Fair’s management team and the Ohio Expositions Commission were evaluating all available information from state and local health officials, as well as the financial feasibility of a reduced capacity fair. With the available information, the Ohio Expositions Commission voted to cancel the Ohio State Fair in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the fair for the future.
“Our commissioners love our State Fair and you know how much I do and this is hard on all of us. This is my 28th year with the Ohio State Fair and I’ve had a lot of challenges over the years and this is right up there. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done,” said Virgil Strickler, Ohio State Fair manager. “The most important thing is the health of Ohioans. Bringing everyone together in a mass gathering is pretty tough. I don’t want to take a chance of putting our fair in jeopardy. It is a great fair and we want to keep it that way.”
In terms of the junior fair, the health risks of gathering people from every corner of the state were deemed to be too high.
“We’ll do anything we can to help the counties, but we are of the belief that if we bring people in from every county there could be a possibility of a hot spot. When you go through those barns, you can’t walk very far without running into people to talk to,” Strickler said. “We just don’t want to take chances. How many people could get sick? We just can’t have that. We have to protect our youth. We are 69 days out from the State Fair starting. We have to tell people. We can’t wait any longer.”
There are also significant financial implications for the Ohio Expo Center and the State of Ohio with the canceled Ohio State Fair.
“We have 200 events. The fair is our biggest event, we also have things like Quarter Horse Congress and all of these other big events and with that we have taken a financial hit,” Strickler said. “By the time July comes we will have given back $3 million to our event holders. We had 3.2 million people come through our gates last year. This is going to be hard on us, but we have to get back up on our feet as soon as we can.”
Instead of coming together in person, the Ohio State Fair plans to celebrate agriculture at a distance with a collection of educational digital content and sharing some favorite memories on social media.
“I am always thankful for all the memories we have with our fair,” Strickler said. “Hopefully we will have a lot of things out there that will try to get us through not having a fair this year and build up for all of us to come back stronger next year and have a great 2021 fair.”
Strickler re-emphasized how tough this decision was to make.
“I think you know how much our agricultural youth mean to me. I have worked very hard to make sure we take care of our youth in Ohio agriculture and also the choir and band and other youth involved with the Ohio State Fair,” he said. “We created the Youth Reserve Program for those youth and those endowments are still going to be given out this year. I know the agricultural community knows how much I have done to make sure that this hopefully never happens again and that we can keep going forward and keep having great fairs.”