Tunbridge World’s Fair, North Haverhill Fair canceled for 2020

  • Jasper Lawrence, 4, of Tunbridge, Vt., keeps an eye on the tape as Chris Reed, of North Montpelier, Vt., measures his sunflower at 10 feet, 8 1/2 inches during the preparation day for the Tunbridge World's Fair in Tunbridge, Vt., on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Lawrence was at the fairgrounds with his mother, Mariah, back, and siblings Willow, 1, left, Miles, 9, and Rowan, 7, to check in on the family's entries for judging. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2020 1:46:48 PM
Modified: 5/26/2020 8:41:56 PM

TUNBRIDGE — For the first time since World War II, the annual World’s Fair has been canceled.

The board of the Union Agricultural Society, the Tunbridge nonprofit that operates the fair and its grounds, had planned to meet next week to decide whether to hold the fair, which began in 1867. But Gov. Phil Scott ordered on Friday that “traditional fairs and festivals are … canceled until further notice.”

“We pretty much knew it was coming,” Alan Howe, the fair’s president, said Tuesday.

Since 1867, the fair has been canceled only for the 1918 flu pandemic and for World War II. This year’s fair, scheduled for Sept. 17-20, would have been the 149th.

“It’s a hard thing to have to do,” Howe said, “but this whole epidemic is a hard thing to swallow.”

The Union Agricultural Society’s annual revenue amounts to $600,000 to $650,000 a year, according to tax documents. A big chunk of that is paid out to the many people who work at the fair. Not included in that figure is the money taken in by the fair’s vendors.

There has never been a study of the fair’s broader economic impact, Howe said. But the influx of visitors has an influence on everything from convenience stores to local fire and rescue departments that raise money at coin drops.

Howe said he feels particularly badly for the fair’s many youth competitors, who show everything from artwork to cattle to vegetables and flowers at the fair each year.

The Tunbridge World’s Fair is not the only Upper Valley agricultural fair to call off this year’s installment.

The North Haverhill Fair Association has canceled the late July fair, according to an announcement on the fair’s website.

The announcement cited the May 18 decision by New Hampshire 4-H not to participate in any fairs as a major reason not to hold an “in-person” event.

The association still hopes to hold a virtual event, and noted that it will pay its property tax bill to the town of Haverhill out of its reserves.

“We waited as long as we could to make this decision, hoping that there would be a way to proceed which would minimize the impact to our local economy, but at this point there isn’t one,” the board said in a statement on the fair’s website.

And the board of the Cornish Fair is scheduled to meet Monday to decide the fate of this year’s festivities, scheduled for Aug. 21-23, said Steve Taylor, a Meriden farmer and a member of the fair’s board.

The board discussed whether to cancel at its last meeting, on May 4, but opted to wait.

Health officials were divided on whether to cancel immediately or to wait a few weeks to see what might happen, Taylor said in an email Tuesday.

Several New Hampshire fairs had already announced plans to close and discussion on May 4 suggested that holding the Cornish Fair would be “a tough proposition,” Taylor said.

“Already there were indications of food and commercial vendors bowing out, food-serving challenges looked insurmountable, social distancing around activities like the pulling contests and woodsmen’s show could be impossible to enforce, and so on,” Taylor said. “More recently New Hampshire 4-H Club activities have been shut down by UNH Extension, which pulls the plug on a core part of the fair.”

And if organizers went ahead with the fair and drew only a fraction of the attendance needed to cover such basic expenses as insurance and tent rentals, the fair could go bankrupt, Taylor said.

While the Cornish Fair bills itself as a small, close-knit event, the World’s Fair draws as many as 50,000 people to Tunbridge to mark the unofficial end to summer.

“We’re planning on being back next year,” Howe said. “That’s about all we can do right now.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

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