ST. PAUL — When the Minnesota State Fair returns Thursday, Aug. 26, after a COVID-induced one-year layoff, some familiar vendors and activities will be missing completely or scaling back their presence.
About 150 vendors have pulled out of this year’s 12-day event either because of COVID-19 uneasiness, staffing shortages or product-supply chain issues, according to Fair officials. That’s double the amount of vendors that chose to forego the Fair compared with other recent years.
“Yes, we did lose 150 vendors, but that’s over the past year,” Danielle Dullinger, a Fair spokesperson, said Monday, Aug. 23, adding only one was a food vendor. “I know a lot of state agencies are not able to come this year.” These include the Office of Higher Education, Department of Education and the Department of Health.
On the bright side, the Fair will be adding 61 new vendors to the mix, which in all totals 975, she said.
Mask and vax rules
Last week, Fair officials announced that they would urge, but not require Fairgoers to wear facial coverings and be vaccinated before entering. The decision, which Dullinger said was “obviously extremely difficult” and one that had been discussed for months, ultimately did cause some to decide to steer clear.
“I can tell you, since our guidance, I’ve been told that we’ve lost seven vendors,” she said.
One of those was Education Minnesota, which said last week that it will pull out this year due to “health and safety concerns.” The state teachers union usually has a booth in the Education Building with teachers, school support staff and higher education faculty volunteering and making personalized photo calendars for Fairgoers.
“Our leadership decided we cannot in good conscience ask more than 150 educator-volunteers to work shifts at our photo calendar booth in unsafe conditions knowing that most of them will return to their classrooms in a few days,” Education Minnesota said in a Facebook post. “The risk to themselves and their students was just too high.”
On Monday, a musical act pulled out of Saturday’s grandstand concert, citing the lack of a mask or vaccine mandate. Low Cut Connie was to perform as part of the Current’s Music-on-a-Stick concert.
“Sometimes you gotta make tough calls, and this was a tough one,” Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner said in a statement. “Now that I understand that there will be no mask or vaccine mandate in place for the event, I don’t feel comfortable moving forward with the show.”
The Fair said in a statement that they “respect the band’s decision to withdraw from the show” and that it will go on with the other two artists on the bill, headliner Lake Street Dive and special guest Kiss the Tiger.
Fair officials also decided to scrap the Giant Sing Along, a popular activity since 2011 that attracts thousands of people singing in unison.
“That doesn’t seem like the safest thing this year, but we hope to bring it back next year,” Dullinger said.
COVID forces more changes
Fairgoers will see changes at some of their favorite stops, as vendors implement health and safety precautions.
For one, the Department of Natural Resources Building will be closed, but outdoor activities at DNR Park, including the fish pond, raptor demonstrations and performances on the outdoor stage, are still planned.
Also, a longtime vendor, Hamline Church Dining Hall, said Monday it will not be offering indoor dining, only ice cream from its sidewalk-facing window.
Other changes include:
- The CHS Miracle of Birth Center will showcase dozens of newborn farm animals in place of live births.
- Dan Patch Park will be an open green and gathering space on four days when Minnesota Cooks Day, Read & Ride Day, Hubbard Broadcasting Day and AARP Day have traditionally been featured at the park.
- Adventure Park with the extreme thrill rides will have a new home south of Judson Avenue between the CHS Miracle of Birth Center and the Dairy Building.
- 4Hers will not be staying in the dorms on the Fairgrounds.
Worker shortage, longer lines?
Fair officials say they are also having a hard time filling positions, including ticket-takers and parking lot attendants, a worker shortage that likely will result in longer lines and wait times for some. As of Monday, the Fair still had around 350 open jobs, a number that Dullinger said is higher than in previous years.
“So we’re asking people to have a little bit of patience with us when they enter the Fairgrounds this year,” she said.
To help avoid longer lines, the Fair is encouraging people to consider going at non-peak times, such as a weekday, and to buy tickets beforehand.
“Just know that everyone who is here is doing their absolute best to present the best experience for those who come to the Fair this year,” Dullinger said.