MALONE — After last year’s Franklin County Fair was canceled, fair directors expressed cautious optimism that the 2021 edition of the historic North Country fair will be able to be held in August 2021.
President Greg Patterson of the Franklin County Agricultural Society Board of Directors said the plan is to announce the planned entertainment for this year’s fair on Wednesday, Jan. 20, with tickets going on sale online on Monday, Jan. 25.
“We are anticipating this year to have a fair and we want to make it bigger and better,” Patterson said. “We are going to plan just like it is going to be a normal year, but a lot depends on this COVID, if they can get the vaccines out so they can say, OK, we can open up, we are fine and we anticipate a good fair.”
Patterson said this year’s fair is scheduled to begin on Aug. 7 and conclude on Aug. 15.
“I’m hoping the first of August we are at 100%, that’s what I’m hoping, I’m hoping the first of August we can run the fair just like the norm,” Patterson said. “We are still looking forward, we are not looking backwards. 2020 is gone, so let us hope 2021 is a lot better,” Patterson said.
According to Patterson, a big hurdle for the fair in 2021 is potential social distancing guidelines.
“We can’t do social distancing, that is what is going to determine our fair,” Patterson said. “The masks, the sanitizing, all that stuff we can accommodate, we cannot accommodate social distancing. How do you social distance a grandstand of 3,000 people? You can’t.”
In addition to the August fair, other planned events at the fairgrounds include a car show and flea market during the first weekend in June and horse shows starting in June.
Though planned, Patterson said all the events are still up in the air.
Patterson said not having the fair in 2020 resulted in a financial hit.
“The problem with us is that we aren’t entitled to a lot of the stimulus money that is out there,” Patterson said. “Our fair is only surviving on what donations and winter storage, that’s kind of what keeps us afloat and sponsors, we’ve had some really nice sponsors who have helped us out.”
Patterson said the fair had to take a loan to get through the year.
“We were very fortunate to be financially set enough where we can borrow the money to get us through,” Patterson said.
Mayor Andrea Dumas, the board’s secretary, explained the loan is from a bank and not related to any stimulus funding.
Dumas described the county fair as an event popular outside of Malone and beyond Franklin County.
“The North Country, upstate New York looks forward to our fair, a lot of people come here for the demolition derby shows that go to other fairs,” Dumas said, adding the fair is also popular with Canadians visiting Malone.
Patterson said due to its popularity, the fair brings in a substantial amount of revenue for the community.
“The fair generates revenue for restaurants and hotels, each one of these stands out here, they don’t run those stands to lose money, they do it to make money and they anticipate that money when it comes fall to pay for taxes, school clothes, vacations, they plan on that money to do that,” Patterson said.
Patterson estimates 75,000 people go through the fair over the course of the week to 10 days it runs.
According to Patterson, there are 30 stands at the fairgrounds owned by individuals.
“You can’t run a stand at 50% capacity or 25%, or social distance, how do you sit around a stand and eat and social distance? You can’t,” Patterson said, “Our biggest thing is we got to make sure that everybody is going to be able to do what they want to do, and we still got to abide by the rules.”
Patterson said though there was no fair last year the fairgrounds have been kept up and the fair has been able to put state agriculture grants towards improvements throughout the facility.
“A lot of the exhibitors are going to be kind of surprised at all the stuff we changed with the grants we did receive. We’ve upgraded the facility quite a bit,” Patterson said. “We didn’t just sit idle for a year, we’ve been pretty active in getting stuff done, fixed, and changed.”
According to Patterson, the grant funding went toward redoing the bathrooms in the horse barn, while also covering painting and new lighting at buildings throughout the grounds, including to the horse and cattle barns, in addition to new LED lighting in the grandstands.
“We redid all the lighting in the grandstand so when it comes to derby and stuff it should be like Shea Stadium,” Patterson said. “Now it is all LED, upgraded lighting.”
The grant funding came from agricultural grants through New York state, according to Patterson.