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Organizers cancel 2020 Coles County Fair

Organizers cancel 2020 Coles County Fair


CHARLESTON — Concerns about public safety and the financial viability of holding the Coles County Fair during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to the cancellation of the 2020 edition of this event, which is billed as Illinois’ oldest continuous fair.

Coles County Fair Board members voted Thursday evening to cancel the fair that had been scheduled for July 26-Aug. 2 after months of watching pandemic developments, monitoring public health guideline updates, and discussing their options for the fair.

"There are a lot of things to take into consideration. It was a hard decision for us, but I think we did the right thing for the community," said board President Tom Jones. He said these considerations outweighed remaining as the oldest continuous fair in Illinois. Jones said a few other fairs are older, but Coles County's had been held annually since 1854.

Jones said their foremost consideration was the health and safety of the community. He said COVID-19 infection risk is at a level where the Illinois Department of Public Health would require that restrooms on the grounds be near continuously sanitized if the fair were held as scheduled.

In addition, Jones said social distancing necessitated by the coronavirus would prevent the grandstand from being filled to the capacity needed for events there to be profitable. He also said the Illinois Department of Labor is not currently licensing carnivals to operate, so the fair would have lost the draw of rides and games this summer.

"We just didn't think it would be economically feasible to have the fair," Jones said.

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The fair board president noted that the 2020 Coles County Fair Queen Pageant had already been cancelled due to COVID-19 and that the University of Illinois Extension is holding livestock shows virtually for 4-H youths this summer instead of at county fairs, as well.

During every Coles County Fair, the grandstand hosts the pageant, truck and tractor pulls, a demolition derby, a bull ride and other special events. Barns on the grounds host 4-H and open livestock shows, while the midway is filled with the carnival and food vendors.

Charleston Masonic Lodge Secretary Bob Bennett said this organization has operated a concession stand next to the grandstand since the late 1970s. He said they sell fresh grilled burgers, nachos with cheese sauce and jalapenos, and other snacks to raise money for community service projects. Bennett said the cancellation of the 2020 fair is not just a loss to the lodge and other food vendors.

"It's unfortunate for the whole community," Bennett said. Still, Bennett said the lodge looks forward to reopening its concession stand at the 2021 fair.

Jones said the fair board had already booked its 2020 grandstand lineup, including a performance by county singer and Eastern Illinois University alumnus Jake Maurer, and hopes to offer this same lineup for 2021.

For approximately 25 years now, Jones has served on the fair board. He has also spent most of his life helping with livestock shows at the fair. Jones said he will especially miss seeing all the visitors to the fair this year.

"It's a great place to see old acquaintances and meet new acquaintances," Jones said of the fair.

Scenes from the 2019 Coles County Fair

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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