2020 Franklin County Fair canceled

  • Fairgoers enjoy the Super Loop and Yo-Yo rides at the 2017 Franklin County Fair in Greenfield. Fair organizers announced on Tuesday that the 2020 fair has been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff File Photo/Dan Little

  • Heather Streeter, front, Pucky Streeter, and Tyler Streeter, then 12, compete for the prize in a water gun game at the 2019 Franklin County Fair in Greenfield. Fair organizers announced on Tuesday that the 2020 fair has been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF File PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Fairgoers play in a wave of bubbles at the 2019 Franklin County Fair in Greenfield. Fair organizers announced on Tuesday that the 2020 fair has been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2020 8:58:20 PM

GREENFIELD — The fate of the 2020 Franklin County Fair, which was unclear just days ago, has been decided, following a unanimous vote by the Franklin County Agricultural Society’s board of directors on Tuesday: the event, planned for Sept. 10 to Sept. 13, is canceled.

Mike Nelson, president of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, which organizes the annual fair, took to the fair’s Facebook page to announce the “difficult and heartbreaking” decision.

“This step is one we hate to take, but absolutely must,” Nelson wrote. “For 172 years, the fairgrounds has been a beacon of pride in Franklin County. Taking this unprecedented step today will allow us to preserve this history and come together again at the annual Franklin County Fair in September 2021.”

The board of directors, which has 21 voting members, arrived to the decision to cancel after considering the public health risks associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the financial implications of holding a revised fair in the fall versus canceling altogether.

“It was a last-minute decision. We waited as long as we possibly could,” Nelson said during a phone interview Wednesday. “We’re three months out now, it was make it or break it.”

Nelson, who himself works for the state Department of Public Health, wrote in the Facebook post that while COVID-19 is currently retreating, most public health officials continue to warn that another wave is likely, though it’s unclear when. Moving forward, Nelson said he and the board of directors will continue to watch as conditions progress over the summer. He said they hope to hold some of the smaller, scheduled events on the fairgrounds, but that all depends on what is allowed based on the state government’s guidelines.

The fairgrounds are home to a variety of shows each summer. Smaller events, presuming they are allowed to continue, may still be held this summer, Nelson said. This includes a cattle show in August and a goat show in July. At this time, Nelson said Extravaganja, which is set for early October, is continuing with its planning process.

Between the loss of sponsorship, the possibility of significantly decreased attendance and the cost of an erosion repair project on the fairgrounds property, Nelson stated that, financially, it is significantly less detrimental to cancel the Franklin County Fair than to have it. He said there would be little benefit, with very large risk.

According to Nelson, an average year sees 25,000 people attend the September fair. He said attendance would surely be lower than a normal year, and if the Franklin County Agricultural Society had held the 2020 fair, it would have been limited.

“Given that reality, you’re looking at a 50 percent loss in attendance,” Nelson estimated on Wednesday. “That’s a huge financial burden.”

Nelson said the fair breaks even each year and makes “a few bucks” to carry over into the following year’s planning process or to support maintenance work. If the fair were to operate, even in a limited capacity, Nelson expected the expenses, and health safety risk, would outweigh the potential profit.

Looking at the surrounding community of residents and small businesses that support the fair each year through attendance and donations, Nelson added that the board of directors did not want to contribute to the financial strain they’re facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic by asking for their support.

Furthermore, Nelson noted it is possible the Franklin County Agricultural Society wouldn’t have legally been able to hold the fair, as Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive orders continue to limit large gatherings. The uncertainty surrounding such regulations made the event impossible to plan. Many of the entertainment acts signed on for the 2020 fair have transferred their contracts to next year, so Nelson said folks can expect a similar line-up for 2021.

“We’re really excited to start planning for next year’s event,” Nelson said.

Assuming the world is back in a state of normalcy, he said, next year’s fair will be an opportunity for everyone in Franklin County to come together again.

While the fairgrounds will be a little quieter this summer, Nelson said the Franklin County Agricultural Society will take the time to catch up on maintenance projects, noting that there’s always something to be done at the 170-year-old grounds.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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