The Elkhorn City Council on Monday night voted 4-2 to give the Walworth County Fair something it has never had in its 170-year history: a license to sell beer and wine.
The vote reversed the council’s decision one week earlier not to allow beer and wine sales at the fair.
Karel Young and Scott McClory voted against granting the license.
The license was granted with restrictions: Sales are limited to 4-9:30 p.m., and the beverages can be consumed only in the horse track and grandstand areas.
The public watched the council meeting remotely at the Matheson Memorial Library because of coronavirus concerns.
The video and audio feed was poor, and distinguishing who was speaking and what was being said two blocks away at Elkhorn City Hall was difficult to impossible at times.
A fairgrounds representative told the council the fairgrounds lost money because of flooding in 2018, which drained reserve funds, and it is losing money again this year because of multiple events that were canceled because of the coronavirus.
Other events this summer could also be lost, and the fairgrounds could see losses of $500,000 or more for the year, the representative said.
“It’s not that we want to sell the beer. We need to sell beer … to keep us from sinking deeper and deeper,” the representative said.
Attendance is expected to be low this year because of people’s continuing concern about catching the virus, the representative said, so the beer and wine sales are seen as the only alternative to generate revenue.
Sixteen people spoke at the meeting, five for and 11 against granting the license.
Gene Ingersoll, who said he has been to every fair for the past 70 years, was one of several area residents who said one of the fair’s attractions is that it’s dry.
If alcohol is served, “it will be the end of the fair,” Ingersoll said.
Others said selling alcohol sets a bad example for youth.
Matt Lois said people have brought their own alcohol to the fair in the past.
“There’s a lot more alcohol at that fair now than you actually perceive,” he said.
Lois suggested allowing beer and wine sales on a one-year trial.
Kyle Adams, who exhibits at the Walworth County and state fairs, said he has always felt comfortable with people drinking at the Wisconsin State Fair.
Nancy Douglass of the Walworth County Fair Foundation and general manager of The Lake 96.1 FM radio station said the community needs the fair to be as big and successful as it can be.
“Businesses who participate need the exposure and income opportunity. We have a lot of lost income to make up for,” Douglass said. “The 55 or more charities, many of whom generate the bulk of their income (at the fair), need the opportunity to raise some funds, especially because they’re serving the needs of so many more people right now.
“For the surrounding businesses, the fair generates several million dollars in collateral income,” Douglass continued. “… If the fair is to continue as we know it this year, the revenue has to come from somewhere. … We need this fair to be successful, not just for the fair but for all of us.”