Kansas State Fair canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

Youth and livestock events to continue in diminished capacity.
Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 9:35 AM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - After going uninterrupted for 106 years, the Kansas State Fair Board has officially canceled the 2020 Kansas State Fair for the first time in the event’s history.

The 2020 State Fair was scheduled to run September 11-20.

Organizers said that only half of the vendors were planning on returning and it made the fair about 350,000 people attend each year less feasible.

Kansas State Fair General Manager Robin Jennison said, “We’re not quite at a loss of 50 percent with vendors either inside or out but we’re approaching that. It just wasn’t going to be the fair that people expect.”

This also comes after neighboring state fairs in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas also canceled. For out of state vendors, Kansas State Fair organizers said it didn’t make sense for them to come to Kansas without having other events in their circuit.

This reverses a decision the Board made about two weeks prior to keep the 2020 Kansas State Fair on the schedule.

Monday, July 13, board members said in light of vendors pulling out and COVID-19 surges, it is the right direction to hold of on the tradition until 2021.

“We’ve taken at least five steps forward and I feel like having the fair in the same way or trying to have the fair in the same way, we’re taking at least ten steps backward and we need to keep our progress going,” said Kansas State Fair Board Member Holly Lofton. 

Following the vote by the Board, the Kansas State Fair announced people who already bought tickets can get a refund or hold onto them until 2021 and they tickets will still be valid. The fair is also working to reschedule the 2020 grandstand acts for next year.

The decision by the Board is also leaving some of the local vendors relieved.

Hutchinson AMBUCS and the South Hutchinson United Methodist Church both decided before the fair’s vote to not take part this year.

South Hutchinson United Methodist Church Pastor Claire Gager said, “It was a difficult decision, 70 plus years we’ve been doing this and we just decided safety was number one.”

South Hutchinson United Methodist operates a cafeteria food venue inside the food court.

“Out of 78 people that worked at the fair for us, 47 were in the 60 to 80 age range, so we were really concerned about them being at high risk,” said Judy Snyder, the Secretary of South Hutchinson United Methodist Church Fair Board.

The church used the fair as a fundraiser for the congregation and mission work but said right now, there are more important things to consider. Pastor Claire Gager said she is pregnant and that adds an extra focus on the issue of health.

“Still hard, we know it’s going to economically affect our community, state and it’s people but the safety of our people is more important,” said Pastor Gager.

The decision was once the church’s fair board has been looking at for some time.

Snyder said, “Last week in July we make about 1,000 pounds of noodles, so we were needing to make a decision and stick with it for our church.”

The non-profit Hutchinson AMBUCS supports programs and services to increase independence and mobility of people with disabilities.

Their primary fundraiser is the Sweet Shop, an ice-cream booth at the Kansas State Fair, but they too decided to pass on this year’s state fair.

Randall Haltom with the Hutchinson AMBUCS said, “The main thing that we’re looking at is the welfare of our members and we get a lot of volunteers from organizations that we help in town.”

Haltom added, “It’s not worth the risk, for people coming from all around the nation. "

The organization said they are also in a financial situation where this shouldn’t impact their efforts too greatly.

“That impact will definitely hurt but we will survive. Hopefully, we won’t have to with the help of the community, won’t have to cut back in those that we help,” said Haltom.

The Kansas State Fair Board is also working to keep this from being a total loss, currently planning for 4-H, FFA, and open class livestock youth events to take place.

Reno County K-State Horticulture Agent Pam Paulsen said, “That they still get to have some of that part of the fair. They also feedback on the work that they’ve done and learn how to improve.”

“Fair is just like the grand finally. Take what you’ve worked hard on all year long and take it to the show and let everyone see what you’ve done,” said Reno County 4-H Assistant Donna Phillips.

The fair’s currently looking to stagger those events out over three weekends in September with only specific categories or exhibitions happening at a time to limit the gathering of people at the fairground.

The Board is scheduled to review those plans August 4.

This is a developing story, check back for more details.

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