State Fair of Virginia cancelation impacts economy, workers — but hope is not lost

Business

DOSWELL, Va. (WRIC) — This year’s State Fair of Virginia was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic — and that impacts more than you might think.

This year, guests weren’t able to walk through the popular tunnel entering the Meadow Event Park into rides and agricultural exhibits.

The screams of fairgoers on spinning rides like the Hydra and laughing families straddling carousels aren’t able to be heard. The smells of funnel cakes and candy apples aren’t drifting through the park.

But it’s not just about the rides and food.

Last year, the State Fair of Virginia brought in over 250,000 guests over the course of ten days at an average ticket price of $7 per person. Vendors pay a percentage of their net revenue and buy plots based on space to run their operations.

Those ten days and 250,000 guests contributed to 80% of the operating revenue for Meadow Event Park, the venue that houses the State Fair.

While operating at the fair, food vendors pay a 5% sales tax and food and beverage taxes to Caroline County, which also lost out on incoming revenue due to the cancelation this year.

In Virginia, Joliffe says that most county fairs are impacted deeper as 100% of their bottom line is affected when the fairs are closed, as they may not have a large number of other events throughout the year to bring in revenue.

Marlene Joliffe has spent the last 32 years working in State Fair management in West Virginia and Virginia and chaired the International Association of Fairs and Expositions in 2013. She says that the live event industry normally employs 12 million people a year across the country, including the folks who work the fair.

She says that the impact affects several pieces of the State Fair and “…when you really drill it down to the folks who depend on us to make a living, whether they are a food concession vendor, whether they sell jewelry, whether they’re an entertainer that performs on stage.”

Marlene Joliffe

She says she misses the sights, sounds, and guests this year as the COVID-19 situation has allowed minimal events to be held at the Meadow Event Park.

“Delivering that warm, fuzzy feeling of what it feels like to walk into the state fair and pet an animal and see people having fun, you just can’t do it virtually. It’s not the same,” she said.

Joliffe discussed how human interaction is an important part of life and giving children the chance to meet real farmers and learn about agriculture is a huge part of what the State Fair was founded upon.

The State Fair of VA showcases the ‘Best of Virginia‘ and the core mission is to highlight agriculture in Virginia and bring the story of agriculture to the masses by connecting people with real farmers and real agriculture.

She also added that although the next state fair is a year away, she has high hopes that a return to normal will be in the near future.

“For so many families, the fair is part of their annual year,” Joliffe said. “It’s like Christmas and birthdays. I have received numerous letters from people telling me how much their family misses being able to come to the State Fair.”

But from October 2 – 4 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., you can get some of that fair food you’ve been missing this year. Folks will be able to buy food and drink from dozens of State Fair vendors at a new drive-in event. A portion of the profits will go to the State Fair of Virginia Scholarship Program.

*Editor’s note: The use of ‘petting zoos’ is actually in reference to agricultural exhibits.

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