ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WFFF) — Last year was a quiet summer for fairgrounds across Vermont as the pandemic forced organizers to scrap their plans and focus on raising money for 2021. The good news now is that most of Vermont’s fairs are gearing up for a big return in just a few weeks.
“It feels good to be back to normal,” said Jeff Bartley, Marketing Director at the Champlain Valley Exposition. The Expo is preparing for this weekend’s “Taste of the Fair” event, and vendors were setting up their fried dough trucks Wednesday afternoon. As that was happening, the Vermont National Guard was also on-site dismantling a surge hospital that had been set up for COVID-19 patients.
“The last year and a half was a challenge,” Bartley said. “As an organization, we had to shift the way we approached business. If you told me three years ago when I took this job that I’d be in charge of a hospital, I’d tell you the world is coming to an end.”
For the past 15 months, the Expo has been used as a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site, a surge hospital, a mass vaccination clinic, and it was even home to a few graduation ceremonies. It wasn’t the only site that ended up using their convention space for some unconventional purposes.
“Tunbridge Fair said they actually made quite a bit of money last year by hosting funerals for the local funeral parlor because they could do it safely and outside,” said Jackie Folsom, Executive Director of the Vermont Fairs and Field Day Association.
Folsom said that fortunately, Vermonters’ experience this summer at fairgrounds across the state will more or less resemble the experience they’ve known for decades.
“Fairs started as a way of friendly competition between the farmers, and that continues for most of the fairs,” Folsom said. “They really take it upon themselves to be an educational opportunity for everyone in the state and anyone who visits outside of the state.”
In Rutland, for the first time since 1846, the Vermont State Fair was canceled last year. Organizers had big plans to celebrate the fair’s 175th anniversary, but the show will go on this year from August 17 to 21. Fair President Robert Congdon said it wasn’t easy to pull that off, considering planning typically starts a year in advance. A lack of vendors has also posed problems for the Vermont State Fair and other fairs.
“In some cases, vendors have gone out of business due to COVID so that’s a struggle,” Congdon said. “Now you’ve got to figure out how to fill those holes, and who else is out there. It’s definitely been interesting to pull things together kind of last-minute this year.”