Throughout much of 2020, the Sussex County Fairgrounds was working with a skeleton crew to keep the grounds maintained, and applying for grants to pay the bills.
When the pandemic hit, “the wheels fell off,” said fairgrounds manager Mike Richards. Events, including numerous weddings and nonprofit fundraisers, were cancelled and rescheduled three or four times just to be cancelled again.
And the 2020 New Jersey State Fair was cancelled - a financial blow not just to The Sussex County Farm and Horse Show Association, the nonprofit that manages the fairgrounds and the fair, but to the numerous businesses and non profits that rely on the event for revenue. During a normal year, the eight-day fair brings in upwards of 15,000 customers daily.
“Until it’s gone, you don’t always realize how many businesses really benefit from the fair and the fairgrounds,” said Richards.
After hosting a successful drive through flu vaccination clinic in fall of 2020, the fairgrounds was approached by the county to serve as a mass Covid-19 vaccination site.
The organization was ready for a return to normalcy.
“My pitch was ‘If we want to have a fair in 2021, then this is what we can do to help ensure the county is ready to do that,’” said Richards. “The best way to try to get things back, was to try to get people vaccinated.”
The executive board and fair directors agreed.
Five months and approximately 20,000 vaccinations later, the Sussex County Fairgrounds’ stint as mass vaccination site came to a close this June.
A return to normalcy
When New Jersey’s capacity restrictions started to ease in May, the fairgrounds started planning the 2021 State Fair. Online advance tickets went on sale mid-June.
And to the delight of many, the event will look much like it has in the past: from pig races and barns of farm animals, to carnival rides, classic fair fare, and agricultural exhibits.
The open-air event spans over 170 acres. The fairgrounds and its vendors will be disinfecting of high-contact areas, and carnival rides will have special sanitization processes in place. The fair is also 100% smoke-free for the first time this year.
“To be able to see everyone come back, and see their smiling faces here - it’s going to be really enjoyable,” said Richards.