Eric Douglas Published

Fairs And Festival Set To Return This Year

Evening at the State Fair of West Virginia

Gov. Jim Justice has announced that all state fairs and festivals can reopen, come May. Kelly Collins is the president of the West Virginia Association of Fairs and Festivals, and she’s CEO for the State Fair of West Virginia. Eric Douglas spoke with Collins about the governor’s announcement earlier this week.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Douglas: The governor announced that fairs and festivals are returning May 1. What can we expect? What are people going to see this summer and into the fall?

Collins: We hope that they’re seeing the return of our fairs and festivals. It’s been a long year without our events, and with everybody being closed. So we’re really excited to get back to business. Now, we know that there’s going to be some guidelines and restrictions in place. And we haven’t seen those yet. But we’re more than willing to follow them. Because we know that we need to get back to business and the people want to come to events.

Douglas: So you’re expecting an entire set of recommendations from the state about how to operate and how to how to function?

Collins: In 2020, there was a few months, there was a short time frame where we were allowed to have fairs and festivals and the governor’s office did provide us with some guidelines to be able to operate. We’re looking for something similar. We know that we’re in a little bit better situation this year, thankfully. And with vaccine numbers on the rise, and hopefully COVID cases continue to decline. We know that there’s some things that we’re going to need to follow to keep people safe, because when it comes down to it, safety is the No. 1 thing that we’re concerned with.

Douglas: Are all of them coming back? Are any of them not going to be able to reopen this year?

Collins: We haven’t been able to see a full list of who is going to be able to return. Unfortunately, because of the financial situation, of a lot of events, we are looking for some not to be able to open this year. Thankfully, Gov. Justice did help us out financially from his governor’s contingency fund last year. And that really saved some folks and some of our most-treasured events.

Douglas: So you’re expecting the state fair to come back

Collins: The State Fair is scheduled for Aug. 12 -21. We’re really excited to open the gates and to see people. We hope people are patient with us as we plan, because we know that there’s going to be some restrictions and guidelines. And we’ll make those announcements when appropriate. But for now, it’s easier for us to plan a full-size fair and then scale back as need be because we have a small staff of less than 10 people. We have to start planning now if we’re going to have an event of that magnitude.

Douglas: What’s the first fair or festival after the first of May?

Collins: The Strawberry Festival is probably the biggest event that’s coming up in the first weekend of May. And you know, I know that they’ve been doing everything they can to make plans but they had to scale back a little bit. But now, once we see these new guidelines, when they come out, we’re hoping that they’re going to be able to have a few more events. That’s, that’s one of the most prized events in the state. So we wish them the best of luck.

Douglas: Anything else we haven’t talked about?

Collins: I think the biggest thing is just the economic impact of fairs and festivals to the state. In our last study, the state fair had a $13.8 million economic impact on the state of West Virginia. So it’s so important that we return. I know there’s a lot of people that are on the fence of mass gatherings and rightfully so. We’re going to do so safely and when we do open our doors, I hope that people are coming out to support our events.