Tuesday night was not easy for the Shippensburg Community Fair Board.
After much discussion, the board opted to cancel this year’s fair for the first time in its 63-year history due to the unknowns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The decision comes on the heels of the cancellation of the Franklin County Fair, the Newville Lions Club Community Fair and the Mont Alto Fireman’s Carnival. The Shippensburg Corn Festival Committee is meeting next week to discuss their options for the one-day outdoor festival that draws thousands of people to town at the end of August.
The Shippensburg Fair, usually held during the last week of July, is an important tradition for many area families, and volunteers who pour their heart and soul into planning the event were pained to have to cancel.
“The Board of Directors for the Shippensburg Community Fair is heartbroken to announce the cancellation of the 2020 Shippensburg Community Fair, which was scheduled to be held July 20-25,” a statement released on the fair website reads. “COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on all of us. While we all crave a return to normalcy, our fair board, along with the assistance of local officials, has determined that the potential health risk of holding a fair this year is too great for our exhibitors, volunteers and visitors. Please know that this decision was not taken lightly, and involved many hours of discussion and consideration. Dozens of local youth and community organizations are required to operate the fair each year; therefore, it is imperative that we make this necessary decision in advance of the many weeks of planning and effort that goes into making our event a success. As many can imagine, social distancing on the fairgrounds and within barns and entertainment venues just isn’t practical. Strict limitations that may be imposed on event participants or visitors coming through the gate would negatively impact the many local organizations who use the fair as a fundraising opportunity. This cancellation extends to all events held at the Shippensburg Fairgrounds through July 31, 2020. The board is working hard to determine if some fair events could be held at a later date, or in a different format. Details of those will be announced as planning continues and additional guidance is received. As before, planning for the next Shippensburg Community Fair never ends. We will use this time to plan great things for next summer. Together, with our community and volunteers, the Shippensburg Community Fair will continue stronger than before! The 2021 Fair is scheduled for July 26-31, 2021. Additional information on the event will be available at: www.shippensburgfair.com and on our social media pages. Thank you for your understanding and ongoing commitment to the Shippensburg community. Please remember to support local businesses and organizations through this difficult time as you are able. We are truly grateful for your support, and cannot wait to see you next year!”
Jamie Rhine, chair of the board’s public relations and advertising committee, said Tuesday after the meeting the board was hoping it wouldn’t happen, but saw it coming.
“We have been meeting virtually on Zoom since March, and we didn’t really start having serious discussions about cancelling until April,” he said. “We knew we had to make a decision in May before we started investing money in supplies and advertising, plus the months of planning it takes the organizations to get prepared to run food stands and youth to exhibit their livestock. The last thing we wanted them to do was spend all of that money and then have to cancel closer to July. We also based the decision on the fact that things are changing every day, and there are no solid guidelines on outdoor events yet. We haven’t gotten any information on when we would have been allowed to open, or if it would even happen by the end of July.”
Rhine also noted the fairgrounds are mostly situated in Franklin County, which is still in the red phase of the state’s reopening plan. A portion of the fairgrounds also sits in Cumberland County, which is set to move to the yellow phase this Friday. Though some restrictions are being lifted on the Cumberland County side, large gatherings are still not permitted.
“There has been a lot of discussion about what the green phase even means for these counties,” Rhine added. “In draft form, it may suggest there will still be limitations to 100 people for gatherings.”
Many of the fair’s volunteers are also older, and would be among the most vulnerable and at risk.
“The last thing we want to do is have a situation where they don’t feel comfortable being here, or God forbid, someone get sick,” he added.
He noted the board did speak to some of the food vendors, and the majority were concerned with the logistics behind attempting social distancing inside of a small food stand.
Rhine said he is concerned for the food vendors because they are all local nonprofit organizations and fair week is a major fundraiser for them. He said the board and its various committees are discussing alternate possibilities that could take place the week of the fair or at a later date, but nothing has been voted upon yet.
“Some of the committees are meeting in the next few weeks to see what we can do. There was discussion on possibly doing something for the fair queen contest, whether it be a virtual event with no attendees that would be broadcasted, or holding it sometime down the road and not in July. We’re also thinking about the livestock sale. There are many youth and exhibitors who have invested a lot in their animals and we don’t want them to lose out on the opportunity to participate in that. But, we are still trying to figure that out. We don’t know the format or the timing for that yet, but we want to at least do something that would make up for it. We still have a lot of work to do over the next several weeks. We are going to talk about anything that we can reasonably hold and figure out if it’s feasible to do during fair week or some other time.”
Rhine said while this is a decision the board did not want to make, voting on it early allowed them to also save the money that would have been used for startup costs.
“Fortunately, we have a board that has done a great job over the years, and understands there are years where, for example, it rains four out of the seven days. We had one of those years in 2018. We lost more money in 2018 than we would this year because we haven’t invested in the startup costs.”
Rhine noted while this year will be tough, the fair still receives income from land it rents, and will be in a stable position when it is time to kick off next year’s fair.
“Certainly as soon as we get past some of this stuff, we will push forward to see what we can do for next year,” he assured. “From my perspective, I certainly hope people understand that a lot of thought goes into this. There were a lot of discussions on this.
Everyone in our organization is a volunteer, and if we didn’t want the fair to happen and be successful, none of us would be here. It’s just as disappointing, if not more, for us. It’s pretty devastating for us to make this decision. We are already eight to 10 months into planning for this year’s fair.”
Rhine encouraged the community to support the organizations that will be affected by the cancellation of the fair through other fundraisers and donations.
For more information on decisions for this year’s events, and next year’s fair, visit: www.shippensburgfair.com.