Chautauqua County was the first in Western New York to have its county fair canceled in 2021. Without guidance, others may be following suit.
On Tuesday, the Chautauqua County Fair Board of Directors announced it was delaying the fair for the second year in a row. It was originally scheduled for July 19-25.
Fair Board President Dave Wilson said the board made the decision because of lack of information from the state. “Basically, there’s no guidance from the governor,” he said during an interview Wednesday.
Wilson said the fair board held out as long as it could. “We were going to cancel it in April, but we heard there might be an announcement the first of May so we waited,” he said. “The fair board can’t just snap their fingers and make the fair come together.”
He’s talked to a number of vendors and grandstand shows who asked if they should plan on coming. Some of them had opportunities to perform in other states. “I told them if you’ve got a chance to go to other places, I don’t want to hold you back,” Wilson said.
On Wednesday, state Sen. George Borrello, who represents Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany and portions of Livingston counties, called on the state Health Department to issue guidance so more fair boards don’t cancel.
“It’s unconscionable and completely unfair that Albany has made sure the New York State Fair, which Governor (Andrew) Cuomo attends every year, will be able to have a season this summer while our county fairs are being neglected,” Borrello said. “Unfortunately, this is par for the course when it comes to the directives being issued by Albany during this pandemic.”
Borrello said he understands why the Chautauqua County Fair Board made the decision it did. “Not knowing what the regulations will be, county and fair officials were unable to plan for the event and were forced to cancel.
It’s heartbreaking that our young farmers and ranchers from Chautauqua County and surrounding communities won’t have a chance to compete and exhibit at the fair,” he said.
Cattaraugus County currently has its fair set for Aug. 1-8.
According to Borrello, Cattaraugus County’s Fair Board has told him that May 15 is the latest they can hear back and still do the fair in a normal fashion, with all the typical features. They do still plan to have some kind of grand stand and livestock show regardless, but they need the guidance as soon as possible.
Allegany County, which Borrello also represents, posted on its fair’s Facebook page that they are running out of time as well. “Every single fair remains strong in their commitment to agriculture. However, each fair will have to assess the guidance when it is issued, to see if it will work for them in regards to time left for planning, financial investment and return, as well as staffing. Please be supportive and understand that we are working diligently and we all want nothing more than for the fairs to happen,” they wrote.
Wilson said even though Chautauqua County had to cancel its fair, he hopes the governor will make an announcement to help other county fairs hold their events, including Erie County, which wants to hold its fair Aug. 11-22.
“In Western New York, we’re the first (to cancel). … If it helps other fairs in the region, well that’s part of my goal,” he said.
Should the state Health Department come out with guidance for summer festivals in the very near future, Wilson said the county Fair Board will analyze it and see if there’s some way to hold a “Taste of the Fair” event, where a handful of vendors can be brought in to sell popular fair food. But Wilson said that will depend upon what the regulations are.
On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent out a news release saying that large-scale outdoor event venues will only be limited by the space available for patrons or parties of patrons to maintain the required social distance of 6 feet starting May 19. This will apply to outdoor sports, performing arts and live entertainment, and horse and auto racing venues statewide. Appropriate social distancing, masks and other applicable health protocols will still apply.
The OBSERVER and The Post-Journal called and emailed the governor’s office and asked if this includes county fairs. The press office did not respond with an answer.