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July 30, 2020
Last summer, the Sioux Empire Fair celebrated an impressive milestone with its 80th anniversary. At the time, fair president and CEO Scott Wick never could’ve imagined that the 81st fair would be so much different from any that came before.
This year, “80” will take the form of sanitizer — 80,000 doses of hand sanitizer, actually — that will be ready at the start of each day, one of several efforts to keep fair-goers and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fair is one of few going on as scheduled, from Saturday through Aug. 8, with many of the same rides, foods, concerts and general atmosphere that attendees have come to expect over the past 80 years.
Wick said the fair’s staff has bought hand sanitizer and disinfectant sprays in bulk. More than 50 hand sanitizer dispensers are placed at all major entrances into the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds and buildings such as the information booth, barns and Expo Center. Hand-washing stations have tripled from last year, with more than 40 now stationed across the fairgrounds.
At the carnival area, each ride will be sprayed down with disinfecting agents. All prizes at carnival games will be final; before, winners could trade their prizes. Vendors on the midway will serve condiments in individual packets.
The fair is still hosting multiple concerts and shows this year such as Hairball, Cody Johnson and the PRCA Rodeo. This year, no performers will be available for meet-and-greets and will spend limited time backstage or in the green room before their shows.
Despite all of the safety measures, Wick acknowledges that there is still risk involved with gathering in large numbers and understands that some who usually come to fair won’t make it to the fairgrounds this year.
“We’ve always said it’s up to everybody’s personal preference and responsibility,” he said. “The fair isn’t something that when you wake up in the morning, you have to go to it. And I know a lot of people really look forward to it, but we definitely respect the feelings of those that don’t want to come to the fair (this year).”
Despite many fairs across the country having to call off their festivities, at no point in the past few months was the Sioux Empire Fair staff planning on canceling, he said.
“We’ve always been on, and we’ve taken a wait-and-see approach to see not only globally what’s happening but nationally, regionally and down to our own state. If we were in many of the other states that are having the (COVID-19 testing) numbers they are, the landscape would look different.”
Wick added he is grateful that the fair takes place later in the summer, allowing the staff to learn from other fairs and have more time to prepare. As members of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, Sioux Empire Fair staff members have heard about the safety measures and innovative ideas other fairs were implementing.
“We’re all one big family,” he said. “As we hear of a good product or getting a good deal on something, we all share that information. We all want each other to do well.”
With many traditional summer activities put on hold this year because of COVID-19, Wick said he feels this year’s Sioux Empire Fair is even more special than in years past, providing a safe, fun escape for families in an uncertain time.
“Maybe this is the shining star of the summer of 2020,” he said. “Here we are toward the end of the summer, and we get to do something that’s a tradition that we always do. We hope that people, like I said, if they are comfortable coming out to the fair, they do. We’re just excited to be able to hopefully provide people a little release from the several months of the anxiety and not moving around a lot and not getting to do things. We’re here for them.”
The Sioux Empire Fair will go on this season — starting Saturday. Here’s a look at what will be changing.