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State fair season is almost here. Many hope for a return to pre-pandemic attendance

 A crowd at the Missouri State Fair, pre-pandemic. State Fair directors hope to return to those attendance levels.
Marshall Griffin
St. Louis Public Radio
A crowd at the Missouri State Fair, pre-pandemic. State Fair directors hope to return to those attendance levels.

State Fairs were canceled in 2020, and last year many saw scaled-back events, but this year, fairs across the Midwest and Plains states are hoping to put up pre-pandemic attendance numbers.

“There’s a lot of buzz about just starting to feel normal again,” said Rebecca Clark, manager of the Illinois State Fair. “It’s been a really long two years, especially for fairs.”

While COVID-19 variants continue to pop up and cause concern for public health, for the most part the coronavirus is a low enough risk factor for large outdoor events to carry on as they did in 2019.

The Iowa State Fair is reinstating its “Farm to Fair” dinner. It’s a farm-to-table concept, in which 400 fairgoers can eat a meal of meat, vegetables and other dishes produced in Iowa. And they get to sit with the producers who made it possible.

“We did not do that last year, because it does put people in close proximity to each other while eating the dinner, so we just didn’t do that,” said Gary Slater, CEO and director of the Iowa State Fair. “We’re really excited to have that back.”

While state fairs are bringing back events, they are not abandoning changes they made as part of COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe said there are a lot more hand-washing and sanitizing stations around the fair now, along with other changes.

“The way we do our janitorial disinfecting things, we’ve really stepped that up,” Wolfe said. “I don’t see us not continuing to do that, regardless.”

He said masks will be available to anyone who wants one.

Missouri saw more than 330,000 attend last year’s fair, which is about 10% lower than pre-pandemic levels, and Wolfe is expecting to be back to average this year.

While COVID concerns are reduced, state fair directors can’t relax just yet. Inflation is affecting the price of corn dogs and funnel cakes, as well as the gas it takes to get to the fair. That has directors, like Rebecca Clark in Illinois, concerned about the impact on attendance.

“We’ve been proactive in looking for ways to make the fair affordable. So we have several days, Monday through Thursday, where adult admission is half-priced,” Clark said.

State Fair dates coming up include:

North Dakota State Fair—Minot

July 22-30

Indiana State Fair—Indianapolis

July 29-Aug. 21

Missouri State Fair—Sedalia

Aug. 11-21

Iowa State Fair—Des Moines

Aug. 11-21

Illinois State Fair—Springfield

Aug. 11-21

Du Quoin State Fair—Du Quoin, Illinois

Aug. 26-Sept. 5

Nebraska —Grand Island

Aug. 26-Sept. 5


Sept. 9-18

Oklahoma—Oklahoma City

Sept. 15-25

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @HarvestPM

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jonathan is the General Manager of Tri States Public radio. His duties include but are not limited to, managing all facets of the station, from programming to finances to operations. Jonathan grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. He has a B.A in music theory and composition from WIU and a M.A in Public Affairs Reporting from The University of Illinois at Springfield. Jonathan began his journey in radio as a student worker at WIUM. While in school Jonathan needed a summer job on campus. He heard WIUM was hiring, and put his bid in. Jonathan was welcomed on the team and was very excited to be using his music degree. He had also always been interested in news and public radio. He soon learned he was a much better reporter than a musician and his career was born. While at WIUM, Jonathan hosted classical music, completed operations and production work, was a news reporter and anchor, and served as the stage manager for Rural Route 3. Jonathan then went to on to WIUS in Springfield where he was a news anchor and reporter covering the state legislature for Illinois Public Radio. After a brief stint in commercial radio and TV, Jonathan joined WCBU in Peoria, first in operations then as a news reporter and for the last ten years of his time there he served as the News Director. Jonathan’s last job before returning to Tri States Public Radio was as the News Director/ Co-Director of Content for Iowa Public Radio. During Jonathan’s off time he enjoys distance running, playing competitive Scrabble, rooting for Chicago Cubs, listening to all kinds of music and reading as much as he can. He lives in Macomb with his wife Anita and children Tommy and Lily.
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