The sun sets as fairgoers explore the dairy barn Aug. 29, 2019, at the Walworth County Fair in Elkhorn. Fairgrounds manager Larry Gaffey is hopeful the 2020 event will have its usual offerings despite COVID-19.


COVID-19 has caused the cancellation of events throughout Wisconsin, but at least for now, the Walworth County Fair won’t be added to the list, said Larry Gaffey, fairgrounds general manager.

“Things change every day ... but we are focused on patron safety. That’s our No. 1 concern, and what form our preparations and the fair itself takes may change from day to day ... But as of today, we’re planning on moving forward as it usually happens,” Gaffey said.

The event, scheduled for Sept. 2-7, is in its 171st year. The fair board hopes to offer the full event but also is planning for other scenarios, Gaffey said.

One option would be the fair operating as normal. Another would be to eliminate certain activities, and the final option would offer only the 4-H club competitions and shows.

The final option could be live or virtual, depending on how COVID-19 progresses in the county.

“I wish we all had a crystal ball and could read the tea leaves and be certain what the future holds, but we have to plan for having our normal fair and have some backup plans today,” he said. “It’s just like times where there’s rain forecasted. You still have to do what you can do to plan ahead.”

Most fair vendors already have paid deposits for space rental. If vendors cannot attend the 2020 event because of the coronavirus, they will have the option to keep the space for next year’s event or receive a refund.

Entertainers are aware the pandemic might affect the public’s willingness to watch shows in a crowded setting. Fair organizers are protected contractually with the entertainers and can move them to next year or cancel, Gaffey said.

Some expenses for the fair already have been paid, Gaffey said.

Liability insurance ($100,000), utility bills ($150,000), tickets and other items already have been purchased. It remains to be seen whether the insurance company would give the fair board a refund or rebate if the fair is altered by COVID-19, Gaffey said.

Even if vendors aren’t there and events cannot take place, the livestock showings and auctions would happen, he said.

Gaffey said the fair’s livestock sale is the largest in the state, and it will be important to the fair board to hold at least some version of the fair for the area kids competing.

“The most important aspect of the fair is what these kids gain in education from participating, and we’re determined to maintain that. If we can surround those events with food stands, carnival entertainers and grandstands, then we’re gonna do that. But the projects are the biggest thing.”