No-frills Delaware County Fair, Jug closed to public after governor's order

PAUL COMSTOCK
editorial@thisweeknews.com
The Delaware County Fair and the Little Brown Jug will not be open to the public this year after Gov. Mike DeWine this week limited all county fairs that begin after July 31 to Junior Fair events only.

No rides. No games. No deep-fried candy bars.

And most significantly, no Jug Day swarms, reveling in what many Delaware folks consider the best day of the year.

That’s the state of the 2020 Delaware County Fair, which will be trimmed to bare bones after Gov. Mike DeWine’s July 28 order.

In response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, DeWine limited all county fairs starting after July 31 to Junior Fair activities.

As a result, the general public won’t be admitted to this year’s Delaware County Fair, fair board president Tom Wright said July 29.

The fair will be limited to those directly involved with the Junior Fair and the week’s schedule of harness racing, including the Little Brown Jug, which will take place without spectators.

The Jug in recent years has drawn more than 40,000 people to the fairgrounds.

Wright said the fair board is developing a plan that would allow each Junior Fair participant to have several family members join them at the fairgrounds Sept. 19-26.

The Junior Fair is a series of judged events involving livestock and a variety of other projects for children and teens, with many participants 4-H members.

Only a small number of food vendors will be on the grounds to serve Junior Fair and harness-racing participants, Wright said.

In keeping with DeWine’s order, the fair will be missing rides, games, merchants who occupied the merchants building and coliseum, and most food vendors, he said. Also missing will be the Senior Fair, livestock events in which adults participate.

The fair board met the evening of July 28, originally planning to discuss the scope of events that could be held during the pandemic.

“The governor made that decision for us,” Wright said. “There’s no question we were very disappointed.”

DeWine earlier said county fairs could be held with some restrictions, but July 28 he said the fairs held so far this summer have been the sources of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Social distancing wasn’t being practiced and many fairgoers weren’t wearing masks, he said.

“That’s just a real shame,” DeWine said.

He also had a warning for the future.

“What we do all summer and everything we do is really going to determine what happens as we move forward. It’s going to determine what our fall is like. It’s going to determine” how children return to school, DeWine said.

Wright, who also is president of the Little Brown Jug Society, said this year’s Jug has some potential bright spots.

Because of the pandemic, horses likely to be entered in this year’s Jug haven’t participated in as many races as they would have in normal years, he said. That reduces the odds of horses missing the Jug because of prior injuries, he said.

As in previous years, simulcasts of the week’s races will air in hundreds of locations around the world, Wright said. That number of sites – brick-and-mortar venues such as Scioto Downs – might exceed last year’s total of 420, he said.

In addition, he said, a number of websites will broadcast the races and allow wagering. Those websites will be listed at littlebrownjug.com, he said.

Otherwise, this year’s scaled-down fair will be “a major financial hit” for the agricultural society that runs it, he said.

Compared to last year, Wright said, income from this year’s fair could plunge 90%.

“This is financially a heavy burden and it will continue well into 2021,” he said.

The fair receives money from a countywide bed tax, but that money can’t be used for operating costs; it’s only for capital-improvement projects, such as new buildings, Wright said.

The fair board has long planned a new, 24,080-square-foot Agriculture Building to replace a smaller Junior Fair building constructed in 1964.

Thanks to the bed tax, Wright said, construction of the building could start in three weeks.

The pandemic already had battered the fair’s income by canceling a number of events held on a nearly weekly basis at the fairgrounds during a normal year, Wright said.

Also affected by DeWine’s order are a number of businesses that show up at the county fair to make money, said fair manager Sandra Kuhn.

She said about half the number of indoor vendors and 75% of the outdoor vendors attending a normal fair had said they planned to attend this year’s event.

“Most of them were willing to come and wanted to come,” Kuhn said.

During a routine year, Wright said, fair board members help plan and monitor specific activities at the fair, such as motorsports.

Stripped of such duties this year, he said, other board members approached him after the fair board meeting asking how they could help with this year’s races.

“It’s really a nice board of folks. Their hearts are in the right place,” he said.

Despite the pandemic, Kuhn said, the fairgrounds hasn’t been stripped of every bit of fun for the general public.

The fairgrounds has hosted two Food Frenzies in June and July, with several food-concession trailers and trucks providing some off-season county-fair food.

The concessions will be at the fairgrounds Saturday, Aug. 1, and will return Aug. 21-23.

For more information, visit delawarecountyfair.com.

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