ILLINOIS (IRN) — Half of Illinois’ counties have reluctantly canceled county fairs set for this summer because of COVID-19 concerns.
The rest of Illinois counties are still weighing whether or not to hold some kind of scaled-down or reconfigured fair that people can enjoy safely, without spreading the virus.
Ken Tyrrell, president of the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs, said fair organizers are in a really tough position.
“We have so many questions. It’s extremely difficult to move forward,” Tyrrell said. “All the states around us have canceled their state fairs. I continue to wonder why Illinois has not taken the initiative and canceled the state fair also. It’s leaving us all kind of in never, never land.”
Counties that have canceled had fairs scheduled earlier in the summer, he said.
“Generally, the fairs that are still holding out are the northern fairs that are later in the season,” Tyrrell said.
Illinois fairs are more than memory-making summer events, he said. Fairs are big business.
“People don’t realize that fairs contribute $170 million dollars annually to the economy in the state,” Tyrrell said. “We do create a lot of tax revenue.”
Even if Illinois’ coronavirus recovery moves the state to Stage 4 for reopening, events with more than 50 people will still not be allowed, Tyrrell said.
“Fifty people don’t make a fair,” he said. Last week organizers made the tough decision to drop the Queen pageants, a signature event at each county fair. They have also dropped the talent contest.
Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office announced Friday an executive order cancelling both the Illinois and Du Quoin State Fairs in 2020.
The last time the Illinois State Fair was cancelled was 1945, due to World War II. The Du Quoin State Fair has never been cancelled since the state took over the grounds in 1986.
And what about the rides?
“Right now, the state is not certifying carnival rides,” Tyrrell said. “It’s hard to hold a fair if the carnival can’t come.”
Counties have already signed contracts and invested in preparations for their fairs.
“You can cancel a fair and lose a little money. You can have a fair and have nobody come and you can lose a lot of money. Everybody is between a rock and a hard place here,” Tyrrell said.
Tyrrell said Illinois has been “very good” to the fairs.
“We have received our premium reimbursements from last year and that is a help to fairs,” he said. “We hope they will work with us and provide our state funding for the coming year.”
Tyrrell has worked at the Sandwich County Fair since he was a boy. The sadness of the whole situation clearly weighs on him. Like many others in Illinois, Tyrrell has spent years promoting and organizing fairs in the state.
“Fairs are our life,” he said. “We devote a lot of time to it all year.”