FRYEBURG, Maine — Fryeburg Fair trustees announced Monday that the 168-year-old fair, which was scheduled to take place Oct 4-11, will be postponed until the following year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fair President Roy Andrews, who has been fair president for 13 years, stressed that fair organizers consider the fair to be postponed and not cancelled.
"It's never been canceled," he said, noting there was even a fair in 1918 during the outbreak of Spanish Influenza and World War I.
"We had a fair, but it wasn't a very big one," said Andrews.
The fair has 42 voting trustees, most of whom are from Maine, but some are from New Hampshire.
The vote was taken Friday and was overwhelmingly in favor of postponement, Andrews said, declining to say what the exact vote tally was.
The trustees comprise an organization officially known as the West Oxford Agricultural Society.
Member towns are Baldwin, Bridgton, Brownfield, Cornish, Denmark, Fryeburg, Harrison, Hiram, Lovell, Otisfield, Porter, Standish, Stoneham, Stow, Sweden, Waterford in Maine and six from New Hampshire: Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Freedom and Jackson.
Last year, the fair drew people from all 50 states and 17 countries. It has 3,000 campsites.
Andrews said said trustees don't want to create a pandemic hot spot. But local non-profits use the fair as a fundraiser, and Andrews hopes that in light of the postponement people still will donate to those organizations. Many vendors count on the fair as well.
In their letter, the trustees said they will continue with the capital improvements planned for 2020 and then look forward to the next fair scheduled for Oct. 3-10, 2021.
"Our first priority is to protect the health and safety of our community as well as the thousands of visitors who come to our rural town and fairgrounds each year," they said.
"We have been in constant contact with local first responders, community leaders and state officials. We have consulted with many fairs and venues across the country who are faced with these same challenges. As we follow the State of Maine and Centers for Disease Control guidelines, we determined that social distancing and personal protection equipment considerations would be near impossible to ensure," the trustees said.
"We wish to express our gratitude to everyone for their continued support. It is because of our fairgoers, campers, employees, vendors, exhibitors and agricultural partners that Fryeburg Fair has enjoyed a long and wonderful history. It is with this same partnership we plan for a bright future. Thank you."
Andrews said in a Monday phone interview that in addition to the impossibility of social distancing, it would be difficult to eat Steve's French Fries with a mask on.
Reached for comment, Fryeburg Selectmen's Chair Tom Klinepeter called the news disappointing but not unexpected. As a result, he said the town will have to make changes on the revenue and expense sides of the budget.
"On a typical year, between 600 and 700 people work at the fair," he said.
"More than the town government, the economy of Fryeburg and the local area will take a rather large hit" due to the fair's postponement, said Klinepeter, adding that local businesses also have been affected by reconstruction on Route 302 and various other COVID-19-related closures.
"However, we Mainers are tough and resilient, so we will find a way to make it through this," he said.