Preble County Fair opens today with a change of plans

Less than a week before the Preble County Fair was set to begin, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine mandated all county fairs after July 31 must be junior fairs only.

The Preble County Fair is today through Aug. 8.

“A week ago I was told we could do a full fair,” said Clinnie Stevenson, president of the Preble County Agricultural Society.

Fair rides were disassembled. Tents taken down. Dumpsters dragged away.

“Some of the fairs have done a very good job, but at this point it has become increasingly clear that we cannot have a regular, safe fair in the Ohio summer, the COVID summer, of 2020,” DeWine said at his Tuesday news conference.

DeWine cited coronavirus outbreaks connected with fairs and seeing pictures of fairgoers not wearing masks or social distancing on county fairs’ social media as some of the reasons for this new order. As of Friday, Ohio reported 91,159 total cases and 3,489 deaths connected to COVID-19, according to state health department data.

DeWine’s mandate came as a surprise, Stevenson said.

“We’ve lost a lot of stuff here. We’ve lost a lot of activities, it’s costing us a lot of money,” Stevenson said. “But what we’re doing right now is for the kids.”

The junior fair opening ceremony will start at 11:30 a.m. at the front gate flagpole. The auction will take place on Friday, Aug. 7. Buyers are still allowed to come in for the sale.

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Each kid showing at the junior fair has six wristbands to give to family and friends, Stevenson said. After one group is done showing, those watching are going to be asked to leave so that the next group can come and watch their kid show. To get into the fair, one must have a wristband or a pass.

Signs will be up encouraging social distancing and everyone will be required to wear a mask, Stevenson said. There will be hand sanitizer and hand washing stations set up.

Stevenson said right now, the fair board is focusing on putting on a successful fair for the kids. After the fair, they will turn their attention to things like refunding people or how much money was lost from not having rides or other events.

“It’s not only hurt us, it hurts everyone in our community,” he said. “I hope the people understand that we’re not doing this because we want to, we’re doing it because we have to. In no way, shape or form did we ever intend for the public to be hurt like this.”

Like many members of the public, Stevenson said he was upset when he heard DeWine’s announcement.

“I was very upset with the governor’s office, it was ridiculous that it happened like that,” Stevenson said.

Mike Dare, president of the sale committee and head of the junior auction, said it took everyone “a minute to digest and wrap their heads around the changes” that had to be made to comply with the governor’s order.

Dare worries buyers won’t come to the auction on Friday because they might be confused with all the sudden changes or fearful of the virus.

Registered buyers should have received a packet in the mail. New buyers can register the morning of the auction. Chairs at the auction will be placed six feet apart and masks are encouraged.

“I would like to see buyers there, but I also understand that if for whatever reasons they feel they can’t come in person,” Dare said.

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DeWine’s mandate is also affecting vendors, Stevenson said.

Melia Rambo-Stump had planned to sell crocheted towels and other accessories and Color Street nail polish products at the Preble County Fair.

“This whole thing is a bummer,” Rambo-Stump said. “I’m out a few thousand dollars. We put a lot of money into building our inventory for these fairs, and I have been so busy trying to make a huge selection of towels so that there would be something for everybody.”

Rambo-Stump said that she is lucky that she can pack up her inventory, unlike food vendors.

“There’s a lot of people hurting right now who were counting on the summer and fall shows and fairs,” Rambo-Stump said. “This has drastically affected my family financially. I’m hopeful for some other vendor shows in the fall, but it’s not looking great right now.”

Food concessions that will still be at the fair include sirloin tip concessions, pizza, subs, sandwiches and funnel cakes.

Rambo-Stump said that she feels for the fair board because they were given these orders at the last minute and it is not their fault that there will not be a full fair this year.

“I’m sorry that this has happened, we’re doing everything we can to make the shows great for the kids this year. We have to follow our guidelines,” Stevenson said. “It’s sad because that’s what this is, but we’re going to work through it. We’re going to survive and we’re going to make things happen for the kids.”

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