Virus impacted state fair wraps up

Four girls ride on the Alpine Bobs on the Midway at the Delaware State Fair on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

It will be remembered as one without concerts, the nightly parade, food from The Grange and Delaware Farm Bureau, fewer animals, exhibitors, and competitions.

The scaled-back version of the fair, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, required major adjustments to a routine that attendees had to get used to that kept the annual tradition alive.

“We know it’s not the Delaware State Fair but we did our best efforts to focus in on safety,” says Danny Aguilar, fair assistant general manager and director of marketing. “We felt by design that people attending the Delaware State Fair always had a great time, so we tried our best to still provide the fair, but in a safe fashion.”

Cleaning and sanitizing were paramount during the fair’s 10-day run, and social distancing and other guidelines were in effect. Facial coverings were required at certain times and in certain areas, such as Quillen Arena, Exhibit Hall, Dover Building, and the Delaware Building.

There also weren’t as many options for food or shopping, but Mr. Aguilar said that was done for social distancing purposes.

Joe Mogle of Townsend went 171 feet, 8 inches while competing in the Tractor Pull event in the Quillen Arena at the Delaware State Fair on Saturday.

“The Delaware State Fair is 270 acres,” Mr. Aguilar said. “We have about 90 acres committed to outdoor programming and space for the fair so we can space it out. We were very fortunate to put together a plan and made sure we were laser-focused on social distancing, face coverings and sanitations. We appreciate all the support that we have received from everyone throughout Delmarva.”

Woodside resident Katie Robinson said despite the changes in the fair her experience was still great.

“My family and I had a great time,” Ms. Robinson said. “It was great as far as space and there wasn’t a lot of people there. There were plenty of sanitary stations. They didn’t have a lot of animals, which is always my favorite part, but I understand the owners not wanting to risk their animals getting sick due to everything that’s going on.”

Mr. Aguilar said the fair offered virtual sheep and goat shows on its Facebook page that were well received by everyone that participated.

“We know the animal shows are a big part of the fair,” Mr. Aguilar said. “We wanted to provide an opportunity for people to still be part of it even they weren’t physically in attendance. Fans got a chance to watch sheep and goat shows online and people seemed to love it. They asked for us to continue that for future fairs down the line.”

Last year, a record-breaking 328,000 people visited the fair over 10 days but organizers didn’t expect those kinds of numbers this time around.

“When we designed our operation plan we did it knowing that it was going to be down from last year due to COVID-19,” Mr. Aguilar said. “We knew this year was going to be a difference from last year due to obvious reasons. We did our free admission from 8-11 and people took advantage of that. But we are pleased with the crowds knowing that it’s difficult times for live events.”

Kids ride on the roller coaster at the Delaware State Fair on Saturday.

With lead approval from Delaware’s Division of Public Health, the 101st edition continued with the state four-plus months into the global COVID-19 pandemic that has caused the cancellation of other large-scale events.

While many state fairs were called off this year, Delaware’s version pushed ahead, but Felton resident Takosha Morman felt as though the fair should have been canceled.

“My overall experience this go-around wasn’t the same as previous years,” Ms. Morman said. “It was less crowded, there weren’t as many vendors. It felt like a ghost town. I look forward to the different vendors each year, but many of the vendors didn’t participate due to COVID-19. I think many people were afraid to attend the fair.”

But Ms. Morman said the lighter crowds proved beneficial for everyone.

Kids drive on the bumper cars on the Midway.

“It was a huge benefit,” Ms. Morman said. “There were shorter lines, it was spread out and people were free to walk without bumping into each other like at previous fairs. It was more relaxed. But I still felt as though the fair should have been canceled this year due to all of the changes.”

Mr. Aguilar said organizers understood everyone’s concerns, as they hoped to provide a sense of normalcy for families.

“The tradition and understanding with 101 years under our belt, we know that people love coming out to the fair,” Mr. Aguilar said. “The fair was built and founded on agriculture, livestock and supporting our community, so when we took a step back and looked at our live-stream videos we had an opportunity to see a smile on everyone faces. Even though they were behind a mask, we knew they were smiling because they had an opportunity to exhibit their animals and to be a part of the tradition.”

Despite other fairs being canceled around the nation, Mr. Aguilar said the Delaware State Fair has not only received positive feedback from attendees but organizers from other state fairs as well.

“They’re happy we’re keeping the tradition going,” Mr. Aguilar said. “We understand that people may have not felt comfortable attending the fair, but we were encouraged about the amount of support and positive feedback we have received from the community.
“We’re hoping that everything returns to some normalcy by next year, but we all have to pitch in and do this together. We’re proud to play a small part in putting back some normalcy for families.”