PASO ROBLES, Calif. -- The 16th District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, which oversees the California Mid-State Fair, met on Thursday to determine the fate of this year's event.
During a special meeting held over a conference call, the board decided to cancel this year's fair due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and state restrictions on mass gatherings.
"It is a very difficult and heartbreaking decision," said interim fair CEO Colleen Bojorquez. "From a personal, social, emotional and financial perspective. We truly have exhausted all means of having our fair. The safety of our community is, of course, so important, and as difficult as this decision is, it's been made for us."
The decision comes two days after a meeting was held between a board task force and San Luis Obispo County leaders, including Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein and County Counsel Rita Neal.
During the meeting, county officials said holding the fair was essentially impossible due to a variety of factors, including the low number of COVID-19 cases in the county, making the community more susceptible to spread.
“The well-being and health of our community is our top priority," said board president David Baldwin. "Putting on a safe and fun Fair has always been our goal, and we had remained hopeful that the 2020 Fair could indeed happen. However, the current restrictions have made that
impossible. We will miss this year’s Fair tremendously, but we are now turning our focus to making sure our 4-H, FFA and Industrial Arts exhibitors are taken care of.”
Fair leaders say the junior livestock auction will be held in a virtual format around the same time the fair would have been held.
"Our junior livestock auction, and our junior livestock exhibitors, we're committed to selling those animals for our exhibitors having a virtual auction, some type of virtual show hopefully, depending on the different platforms we can find and what we can do, but we have committed to protecting our exhibitors," said Bojorquez.
The cancellation of the fair is a huge economic blow on many levels.
The most recent economic impact study found the fair generated $80 million into the local economy and created hundreds of jobs.
The study was performed in 2015. Fair officials say those numbers have increased since then.
For the fair itself, the event is responsible for 90 percent of the annual budget, with the other 10 percent coming from other smaller events held at the Paso Robles Event Center during the year.
Having lost most of its revenue this year will ultimately put the future of the fair in jeopardy.
"We face closure," said Bojorquez. "Eventually when you have no revenue come in and you're living off your savings and you still have employee expense, you run out of money really quickly."
Bojorquez said fair officials are asking for state assistance to help weather the financial crisis.
"The state currently has denied any funding, although, we need it now desperately," said Bojorquez. "We're pushing hard. We're working on ways that we can have our community reach out and send letters, send emails, phone calls and make sure the state knows that we're a valuable commodity."
Even as they grapple with severe financial uncertainties, fair officials are already looking ahead to next year's event.
"I have full confidence in board, in our staff, in our partners and sponsors that we will go forward and we will ensure our 2021 fair will be a huge celebration," said Bojorquez. "We want to be here. This is what we do, so this is what we love. We love this place. We love hosting this event. We're doing everything that we can to make it so we can stay open and be able to put on the fair next year."
The 2020 California Mid-State Fair was scheduled to be held July 22-August 2.
Next year's fair will celebrate its 75th anniversary and will run July 21 – August 1, 2021.
For information on ticket refunds, exhibit procedures, livestock & horse events and vendors, visit www.MidStateFair.com.