The Champaign County Fair Board decided to go forward with a full fair Aug. 7-14 at a fair board meeting on Thursday in the maintenance shop at the fairgrounds. Board members spoke of rides, concessions and livestock sales as part of a normal fair that is their duty to provide to the community, even if certain adjustments may be needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The executive committee met Tuesday night,” fair board President Wayne Cook said early in the meeting. “We met with Gabe Jones, who is our health commissioner, Andy Russell, who works for the health department … Sheriff Matt Melvin was there and Jane Napier, who (is) the assistant prosecutor who serves as our legal representation. Basically, we bombarded them with some questions and some stuff they could answer, some stuff they couldn’t, but the general gist of that whole meeting was them along with the rest of this county is behind us, and we’re going to go forward with the fair.
“Until we can’t, until they come in and start locking gates, I see no reason we can’t have a fair,” he continued. “We may have to jump through some hoops, we may have to change a lot of things the way we do them, but I personally feel we owe it to our community to have this fair. This fair is one of the biggest community gatherings in this county, that’s my personal feelings.”
Cook asked if there were any comments from the 26 board members before continuing. One board member was concerned about the potential loss of revenue if they held a fair and no one showed up.
“That’s a very good point. It could happen,” Cook replied. “I mean, people could be too scared to come to the fair. The other side of that is, we basically take that chance every year when we have a fair, and we could have a monsoon that poured down rain every day. I mean, we could have 100 degree heat. You always have those chances.”
Another board member asked if this weekend will be a test of people’s willingness to come out to the fairgrounds. A horse show is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, along with a flea market, and a dairy feeder vaccination going on in the parking lot on Saturday. Cook said that everyone participating in these three events had coordinated with the health department, and that this was a huge step toward what they were trying to do.
“It’s going to come down to our health commissioners and how they’re willing to work with us,” Cook said. “I think we’re very fortunate here that our health commissioner is willing to work with us. Some of the fairs… one in particular that I know of personally, he asked if the health commissioner would come to their fair board meeting and he said ‘I’m going on vacation for two weeks’. I mean, what do you do with that? I’ve been in contact with our health commissioner, and I keep worrying I’m going to wear him out because I talk to him almost every day. But, as new stuff comes out we want to see what we can and can’t do and get back to generating money to support this fair. He’s been great. I consider ourselves lucky we don’t have one of those guys who don’t care.”
Among the health considerations discussed at the meeting, each animal is only allowed to be on the fairgrounds for limited hours. The board also unanimously passed a motion to buy ten portable sinks to set around the fairgrounds for use as hand washing stations.
Cook said that he had been hoping for additional guidance from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, but that a speech he had planned for Thursday afternoon was canceled.
“Right now, what we’ve passed on to (the fair board) are some guidelines they can plan for,” said Health Commissioner Jones on Friday. “What we have passed on to them is that there will be an order specific to fairs that’s going to come out. It was supposed to come out yesterday, but that has been delayed. There was some information that came out yesterday about some openings, amusements and things like playgrounds that will be open June 10. We will review any plans that the fair board makes to ensure that they are aligned with state recommendations, and we are all looking forward to a good fair.”
“Things are constantly changing,” Cook said. “There was supposed to be a big announcement (Thursday) and then they canceled the news briefing, so we didn’t get the big announcement. These can change daily, weekly, whatever, and on top of that (DeWine) also kind of, in his opinion, he said he’s tired of guessing and guessing wrong, but his thoughts are, they’ve done all this slowly because he does not want to take a step backwards. That being said, that’s why we’re taking small steps forward, but each time he takes one it’s meditated so we don’t have to go back.”
Cook reminded board members that a lot could still happen between now and the next board meeting scheduled for July 2, and that they would be able to adjust their schedule on the fly if need be. He said he had spoken with the ride company, who was hoping that they go forward with the fair.
“My concern was (the ride company) might say they were not willing to take that chance,” he said. “With hauling all my rides clear to Urbana, paying people to set them up, going through all that expense, and then nobody show up. She’s willing to take that gamble, so that’s a good sign.”
“I’m pretty optimistic, I think we have a huge opportunity,” said board member Levi Runkle. “With the other fairs canceling, if we can somehow pull off as much of a regular fair as possible, I think the numbers are going to be there because some people won’t be able to go in their home counties. If you look at the traffic when you go to the stores, when you go to Rural King, you’re waiting in line like it’s Black Friday. I think we’re ready to get out because everything’s been canceled, concerts are canceled, all events are canceled. If we can somehow pull this off we might be looking for space to park extra people just for open class shows and trailers, because if they can’t show up in their own county we can have open class shows here. It might be a huge opportunity. I think we owe it to the community to try to do it as regular as possible.”
“I would just like to say, thank you for moving ahead, planning on having the fair. This will be my 25th year having Cardinals Pizza here, and I want it to be a good one,” said Cardinals Pizza owner Don VanZant.
The board next heard committee reports from the grounds committee, livestock sales committee, harness racing committee, junior fair board and 4-H extension. Harness racing committee chairman Randy Leopard said that because the Logan County Fair had decided not to have harness racing this year, they had asked the Champaign County Fairgrounds to host their harness racing July 15-16 for $12,000. At this time there are no spectators allowed, but the board granted their approval for this event. Leopard said he had also been contacted by Shelby County, which may be interested in holding a similar event on the Champaign County Fairgrounds.
Junior fair board president Ally Cupps gave a short and tearful speech that was followed by applause.
“First of all, I want to say thank you to you guys for working so hard for our fair,” she said. “This is my last year showing, and I’m just so grateful for you guys who are working so, so hard for our fair, and I’m looking so forward to it. A lot of things got canceled for me this year, but nothing hit as hard as when county fairs started getting canceled. I got so, so scared and nervous that my last year of doing something that I love so much would be taken away. I know you guys are under a lot of financial burdens, but I think that you are confident in knowing that no monetary value can be put to the experiences, the kids and the projects that are at this fair. Thank you, guys.”
“If anyone has forgotten what we’re here for, that’s it,” Cook said.
Cook also encouraged anyone interested in renting one of the fair buildings to approach any fair board member. He said he had been approached by several food vendors who were interested in setting up drive thru food stands during a weekend in June or July, and that they have already done this successfully in other areas. He also entertained the idea of opening up the campground to allow camping.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304