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Paso Robles feeling financial impact without this year’s California Mid-State Fair

Empty Mid-State Fair
The Chumash Grandstand Arena at the Paso Robles Event Center sits empty Tuesday during what would have been Day 7 of the California Mid-State Fair. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

PASO ROBLES, Calif. -- The Paso Robles Event Center was all quiet on Tuesday.

It was far different than what was suppose to happen, when thousands of visitors should have been there for Day 7 of the California Mid-State Fair.

"It's definitely a sad time for us," said Interim Fair CEO ​​​​​Colleen Bojorquez. "We should be hustling and bustling and having people, and selling lots of food, and having concerts, but we're in the middle of emptiness."

In late May, fair leaders cancelled the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's the first time the Mid-State Fair has not been held in decades.

With the fair cancelled, it's causing massive financial implications throughout the community, since more than 400,000 people annually attend the event.

"It means that they're not staying in our hotels," said Visit Paso Executive Director Stacie Jacob. "They're not eating in our restaurants. They're not shopping in our local shops, so that's the ripple effect that we're talking about."

One of the businesses feeling the impact is the nearby Holiday Inn Express & Suites, which sits just across the street from the Event Center on Riverside Avenue.

"Typically, we would be running anywhere from 95 to 100 percent for the Mid-State Fair," said general manager John Arnold. "This year we're definitely taking quite the beating. I'd say on average we're going to be anywhere from 45 to 55 percent occupied."

The drop-off in occupancy means the hotel will pull in much less revenue this month than they would during normal times.

"In this 12 day run, we would typically do a good half-month's worth of revenue and that's just gone," said Arnold. "It's completely gone."

Businesses across the city are feeling the same impact.

According to Bojorquez, the last economic impact report showed the California Mid-State Fair, along with other events at the Paso Robles Event Center, generates close to $80 million in economic impact to the city and region.

The study is five years old, so it's likely to have gone up to an even greater amount.

"Everyone is feeling it at all levels in our tourism ecosystem," said Jacob. "The fair is such an icon for Paso Robles. It's truly a summertime tradition, so it's really a void, and it's something that we're feeling the impact of."

Jacob added the city would typically have a hotel occupancy rate between 80 to 85 percent in July. But now, during the pandemic, tourism officials are estimating rates will fall between 50 to 60 percent.

Another key blow to the fair's cancellation is the loss of employment.

Bojorquez said the event provides more than 600 jobs each year, most of them temporary.

"A lot of people come and work the fair for two weeks for spending money," said Bojorquez. "They can go buy that hot tub or go on that vacation, so that is also going to be a big impact for a lot of people."

While it's difficult for Paso Robles to adjust without the fair this year, it's possible it may have to live without it forever.

"Fairs in general are in trouble throughout California," said Bojorquez. "We've been really cut at the knees."

Since the Paso Robles Event Center generates 90 percent of its revenue from the fair, this year's cancellation could ultimately lead to its closure.

Bojorquez pointed out that all 75 fairs in California are all facing the same fate.

"They have denied all emergency funding," said Bojorquez. "We can't put on events. We can't have our fair and we aren't getting any emergency funding."

She's now pushing the community to rally together in an effort to help preserve the fair, along with the Event Center.

"Really, the call to action is now for our community to write their legislator to make sure they know how important fair are," said Bojorquez. "We're fortunate that we have so many people that want us here and want us to come back. We just need that help. We need that effort."

If the fair was to close permanently, it would be a difficult blow for the city to absorb, as well as the entire region.

"It would be crushing," said Arnold. "It would not only be crushing not only for our hotel, but our city in general. We rely heavily on that entire Event Center and fairgrounds, so with no acts, no events, it would be devastating for sure. It's a huge economic impact for our city."

Jacob agreed and emphasized just how vital it is to make sure the Event Center remains in operation.

"One in five jobs here in the North County is impacted by tourism, so when you take the Paso Robles Event Center, and you look at the horse shows and the events that happen, I don't know how we would replace that," said Jacob. "That would be a major loss for us if something happens to that facility."

Looking ahead, Bojorquez, who has worked for the fair for nearly 30 years, is remaining optimistic about the future.

"We have a can do attitude," said Bojorquez. "We're going to do it, somehow, someway, we're going to make it happen."

Business Matters / California / Community / Economy / Entertainment / Events / Lifestyle / San Luis Obispo County / Travel

Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at KCOY|KEYT|KKFX.

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