The Litchfield Fairgrounds on Monday in Litchfield. There will be no fair taking place there this year. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

At least three central Maine fairs will not take place this year due to concerns about the coronavirus and government mandates restricting public gatherings.

And other Maine fairs, beloved annual seasonal traditions and economic drivers for many could also be scrapped for this year.

Leaders of the Windsor Fair, Monmouth Fair and Litchfield Fair have all announced their events will not take place in 2020, although they say the fairs plan to return in 2021.

Steers and teamsters greet Sunday during a pull on the first day of the Windsor Fair on Aug. 25, 2019. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Officials of the Windsor Fair, central Maine’s largest annual agricultural fair, initially considered waiting to see if they would be able to pull it off this summer. But they eventually decided to forgo a fair this year due to concerns about COVID-19 and given state mandates that temporarily restrict gatherings to 50 people or fewer.

“The mandates we have with COVID, you can only have 50 people gathering,” said Tom Foster, longtime president of the Windsor Fair. “We get 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 people a day.

“For everybody concerned, as much as we hated to do it, we just didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off this year. It’s going to seem funny, a lot of people have been involved in the fair for our whole lifetime. It’s been a tradition for many families in this area for many, many years.”

Foster said the Windsor Fair typically brings in about $1 million during its roughly week-long run in late August. He said fairs are economic drivers, bringing in revenues for vendors, nonprofit groups with booths that bring in revenues to fund their operations for the rest of the year and farmers and other members of the agricultural community.

He said not having the fair will obviously be a big financial hit for the fair itself, but the organizers were prepared.

“We anticipated something like this might happen someday,” Foster said. “So we’ll be OK financially, but it’s going to use a lot of our reserves.”

Mackenzie MacDonald, 14, of Wales, pets her team of 2-year-old steers before they compete in the 6-foot elimination pull June 13, 2019, in the Charles Henry Robinson Memorial Pulling Ring at the Monmouth Fairgrounds in Monmouth. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The Monmouth Fair, which last year moved to June and became the first event of the Maine agricultural fair season, has also been postponed until next year.

“The more we reviewed it and tried to go through the options, it became clear it’d be near impossible to make it work,” said Phil Butterfield, president of the Monmouth Fair. “Festivals, fairs, any outdoor entertainment kinds of things, are not going to be permitted until well into the fall. It’s nearly impossible (for a fair) to follow the guidelines of the state or Centers for Disease Control.”

Fairs scheduled for later in the year may or may not have to meet the same current standards, as Gov. Janet Mills’ reopening plan for the state is tentatively scheduled to take place in phases. However, no timeline has been specified for when gatherings of more than 50 people may be allowed to take place, which is part of the final phase of the plan.

Officials of the state’s two biggest fairs, the Fryeburg Fair and Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, which take place in the fall, have yet to make firm decisions but still hope to hold their fairs.

The same is true of those who run the Farmington Fair, according to an update on the fair’s website, which indicates they still plan to hold the 180th Farmington Fair from Sept. 20 to 26. Fair officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

The Farmington Fair is one of several listed in an announcement sent out by the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs is still deciding its plans for 2020.

Also on that list of fairs that have not canceled, yet, and are considering whether they can have their events this fair season are the Pittston Fair, July 23-26; Skowhegan Fair, Aug. 13-22; Union Fair and Maine Blueberry Festival, Aug. 22-29; and Clinton Lions Fair, Sept. 10-13.

Buddy Frost, secretary of the Clinton Lions Fair, whose duties include scheduling vendors for the fair, said organizers are considering canceling but haven’t yet made a decision on whether the fair will take place or not.

Barry W. Norris, executive director of  Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, said the safety of fair partners, participants, guests and community members is the top priority at its annual fairs.

He said after meeting for several weeks with fair presidents and other representatives, “our Maine fairs have been forced to make difficult decisions.”

“Although it is not the decision or the outcome that many of us had hoped for,” Norris said, “our fairs must do their part to ensure community health and safety.”

The cancellation of some fairs this year, and the potential for more cancellations, are part of the growing financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Windsor Fair’s Foster noted harness horse racing in Maine is taking a financial hit from the closure of the state’s casinos, and another from the potential cancellation of most Maine fairs, some of which feature horse racing.

Monmouth’s Butterfield said organizers have reviewed their finances and are confident the small fair will be able to get through without having a fair this year and make a return next summer.

“It’s tough because the fairs are such a huge part of the economy in the state of Maine,” he said. “I don’t think people realize the financial impact they have. But we’ll get through this and we’re going to have the fair next year in June and it’ll be fine.”

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