Hindsight? Organizers say cancelling fair was right call

HAMBURG, N.Y. (WBEN) – The Erie County Agricultural Society is trying to salvage a lost 2020.

Wednesday was supposed to be the first day of the Erie County Fair. Normally, thousands of people would be at the fairgrounds to eat food, play games, and view the animals as part of the 4-H exhibit.

Instead, the parking lot at the fairgrounds was empty with the exception of a lectern and table at Wednesday’s news conference.

Normally the Erie County Fairgrounds is packed for the fair crowds but there’s no pomp and circumstance today. pic.twitter.com/Ff38UFmbRI

— Mike Baggerman (@MikeBaggerman) August 12, 2020

“This marks the second time in our history that we will not feature the sights and sounds and smells of the annual Erie County Fair,” Erie County Agricultural Society CEO Jessica Underberg said. “The only other time the fair did not run was shortly after the 100th anniversary in 1943 due to World War II.”

The Erie County Fair was cancelled on May 28 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s like grief,” Underberg said. “Like death grief. You work so hard all year long to put together one event like this and so many people we know enjoy it and a lot of people depend on the revenue they get from this event. We know that is hard for a lot of people in different ways.”

There will be a food drive and fireworks show at the fairgrounds on Saturday. Their “Blast Out Hunger” food drive will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The fireworks show will be a drive-in event. Anyone looking to view the fireworks must remain in their car during the show that begins at 9:30 p.m. Parking at the fairground begins at 8 p.m. on a first-come, first-serve basis. Admission to the event will include a bag of non-perishable food items that will be collected from your vehicle when you arrive.  

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in July that all county fairs and the New York State Fair could not take place. Even the Erie County Fair could have taken place and it was never cancelled, Underberg doesn’t think they could run the event properly.

“Based on the amount of effort it took to run the bonanza with a very small group, no,” she said. “Being able to contact trace everybody who was at the fair. Being able to wipe surfaces constantly. Temperature taking. Mask wearing. If we had to do all of those things, the fair would be nearly impossible.”

She acknowledged that there were some people who thought they called off the fair too soon but said the decision was the correct one in hindsight.

“Timing is important but (we) still stand behind the decision our board made,” she said. “It was the right decision.”

The Erie County Agricultural Society furloughed 30 staff members just days after they cancelled this year’s fair. Underberg said they are dipping into their reserves in order to continue operations during the pandemic.