County fairs hope to give ‘as normal a fair’ as possible this summer

Dayton area county fair boards plan to hold fairs this summer with COVID precautions but still with full fanfare.

Rodney Arter, president of the Ohio Fair Managers Association, said that fairs will “absolutely” look more normal this year.

“We are telling fairs to plan a full fair this year,” Arter said. “I think the (COVID) situation will be better this summer.”

The latest guidance from the governor is still not totally clear, Arter said, so the organization is working to get clarification on things like outdoor dining.

The governor’s revised orders for fairs include compliance with the statewide mask order and social distancing, as well as guidelines for animal exhibitions. Additionally, there will be a 25% capacity maximum for indoor grandstands and a 30% capacity maximum for outdoor grandstands. Where possible, fair organizers and managers should provide one-way traffic in buildings or other areas where doing so will help people maintain social distancing.

The Great Darke County Fair is scheduled for Aug. 20-28. Brian Rismiller, fair manager, said Darke County is planning for a full fair this summer that will look much like the 2019 fair. Jake Owen will perform a concert on Aug. 23 and normal grandstand events will be held throughout the week.

“We’re going to put on the safest fair we can put on with the limitations the state of Ohio gives us while trying to have as full of a fair as we can,” Rismiller said.

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Last year Gov. Mike DeWine and the state health department ordered all fairs to be junior fairs with only a 4H/FFA competition five days before the 2020 Greene County Fair.

Dan Bullen, treasurer for the Greene County Fair Board and immediate past president of the Ohio Fair Managers Association, said Greene County will have a full fair Aug. 2-7.

“The big question we have right now is the amount of people we can have in our grandstand,” Bullen said.

The current guidance calls for pods or groups of people from the same household or family of no more than 10 people and that pods are seated 6 feet apart in the grandstands. Bullen said the fair board is trying to figure out how to sell tickets in pods and if to sell a pod’s worth of tickets to a group smaller than 10.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Greene County’s fair this summer will likely look a lot like the 2019 fair, Bullen said, with the addition of signage about mask wearing and more hand sanitizer.

Bullen said if turnout is anything like other recent events at the fairgrounds, like baseball card and toy shows, many people will attend the 2021 Greene County Fair.

“People just want to get out. They’re ready to go ... People are just ready to enjoy life again,” he said.

Rismiller said he has heard mixed opinions from the public on COVID and whether they plan to come out and support the Darke County fair. About 80% of the events at the fair are in open air, so he believes that the fair board will be able to keep the public safe.

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“We just feel fortunate to put on a full fair this year,” he said. “The county fair is what everyone looks forward to in their hometown.”

The Ohio State Fair will only have a junior fair for youth exhibiters this year. Arter, with the Fair Managers Association, said he did not know of any local fairs doing only junior fairs.

“Some people are still scared, but there are also other people who just want to get out,” Arter said. “It’s going to depend on where the virus is.”

Fairs are more prepared this year, Arter said, no matter which way it goes.

“We’ve done this before,” he said.

Wade Flory, who is on the Montgomery County Fair Board and is the District 3 director for the Ohio Fair Manager’s Association, said some fairs in Southwest Ohio are struggling to survive because of the financial hit they took in 2020. Area fairs are still trying to keep their grounds clean, the grass mowed and the lights on with much less income than they normally use, Flory said.

“If it were not for help from the state and those from the public who sponsored us, we would not have survived,” Flory said.

Darke County lost more than $100,000 last year. “We took a big hit last year,” Rismiller said.

The state gave fairs that put on a junior fair $50,000 last summer.

Last year, incomes for the youth livestock auction were down. Kids still had fun, even though they didn’t get the full experience, Flory said.

Montgomery County’s fair will be from July 11-17. Flory said food and ride vendors are anxious to get out to fairs because they had so little income last year. The public is becoming more willing to go out, he said, but turnout this summer will depend on what’s happening with the coronavirus.

The COVID restrictions have limited rentals for the Montgomery County Fair because they will limit the number of people who can be inside, Flory said.

“We’re working toward having a normal fair,” Flory said. “We’re looking at a full fair, and we’re looking at producing a fair that the public is happy with, and that the public can come to enjoy and have a great time.”

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