TOPSHAM — The annual Topsham Fair, which draws more than 20,000 people to town in early August,  has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, 11 of Maine’s 25 agricultural fairs have canceled this year as of Tuesday.

“The Board of Directors of the Topsham Fair hold the safety of our patrons, exhibitors, vendors, entertainers, and all others involved in our fair above all else,” Topsham Fair organizers posted on social media.

Also postponing their fairs this year are Acton Fair, Harmony Free Fair, Houlton Agricultural Fair, Litchfield Fair, Monmouth Fair, Northern Maine Fair, Ossipee Valley Fair, Common Ground Fair, Windsor Fair and the Waterford World’s Fair.

“We really didn’t want to cancel but we had no choice,” said Leon Brillant, the president of the Topsham Fair board.

That hasn’t happened since 1944 when there weren’t enough people to run the fair because of World War II, he said.

The fair still has to pay for insurance and utility bills, Brillant said.

Asked how much the fair stands to lose financially, “we never really figured it out,” Brillant said. “We have some money saved up so we can get by.”

When it is safe and gathering restrictions are lifted, possibly in September, Brillant said the fair hopes to be able to try to have some of the events such as a demolition derby of truck pull. The fair also is working with food vendors to see if they can offer some weekend events to support the food vendors.

“We’ll get it figured out,” he said.

The biggest problem is that the fair won’t receive the stipend it gets from the state, Brillant said.

Barry Norris, the executive director of the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, said fairs get a stipend, money generated by harness racing, casinos, racinos and Maine Off-Track Betting from the previous year’s fairs. The stipend from 2019 was dispersed in January and is sitting in reserve. However, there is no harness racing, casinos, racinos or off-track betting in Maine to generate money for 2021 right now, Norris said.

“If the fairs don’t operate this year they have the operating money that will give them the opportunity to start up next year,” Noris said. “The impact is really on 2021, so what we hope will happen is that fairgoers will show up in droves in 2021 to support the agricultural fairs so they can continue,” Norris said.

Henry Jennings, executive director of the Maine Harness Racing Commission, told The Times Record in 2019 that the Topsham Fair receives an $11,627 annual facility stipend for hosting harness racing and a small wagering income and $1,600 per day from the Horseman’s Association. The state also covers the purses to pay the winners.

Craig Coffin, superintendent of racing for the Topsham Fair, said it’s a tough time for people in the harness racing industry. Some qualify for unemployment but for some, harness racing in their only income.

“The horses are training, they are ready to race,” Coffin said. “It’s just costing them money and they’ve got no money coming in.”

Losing the fairs this year also leaves the 4-H programs scrambling to find alternative ways to work with students.

Kristy L. Ouellette works on 4-H youth development for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Androscoggin and Sagadahoc Counties. She estimates as many as 150 students participating in 4-H programs. Some of those students start preparing in January.

The impact should be relatively small on nearby businesses at the Topsham Fair Mall, according to mall owner John Larson.

“I think the impact is very selective, and what I mean by that is, people go to the fair, they’re not combining that with a shopping trip,” he said, “and by and large whatever the impacts are, are more associated with the people working at the fair.”

John Shattuck, Topsham’s economic and community development director, said he is still working with the fair to determine the impact of losing the 2020 fair season. The Highland Games is also held at the fairgrounds the weekend after the fair.

“It may be hard to quantify, but I trust we all recognize that Maine’s many fairs and festivals, including our own Topsham Fair and Highland Games, have a huge positive impact on the success of so many  businesses during the summer season,” Shattuck said

 

 

 

 

 


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