The Hillsdale County Fair will not take place this year because of COVID-19. Josh Newhook | Col­legian

In an unprece­dented move, the Hillsdale County Fair Board voted to cancel this fall’s fair, due to COVID-19, leaving many youth orga­ni­za­tions, busi­nesses, and com­munity members dev­as­tated.

Since 1851, the fair has been Hills­dale’s pride and joy. Res­i­dents of Hillsdale County, stu­dents of Hillsdale College, and many out-of-town guests look forward to the annual event. 

Even though the com­munity will miss the fes­tiv­ities, Fair Manager Lori Hull said she had little control over the sit­u­ation. 

“Can­celing the fair is not what we wanted to do, but what we had to do,” Hull said. “There was not a lot of choice in the matter.”

With the state’s COVID-19 guide­lines, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered that to proceed with an event the size of the fair, the county must reach Phase 6 of re-opening. This includes the devel­opment of an effective vaccine, or no new cases of the virus for at least 30 days. With the nearly impos­sible alter­native of lim­iting the fair to just 50 people indoors and 100 people out­doors, the fair com­mittee was forced to cast a dif­ficult vote.

Despite the apparent dev­as­tating effects of can­celing the fair, there was no other option. 

“All 100 members of the fair com­mittee voted unan­i­mously to cancel the event,” Hull said. 

Hillsdale County res­i­dents said they feel the void of a fall without a fair.

Marriah Castillo, who grew up in Hillsdale and has attended the fair her entire life, said it is “dis­heart­ening we will not be having it.”

She said she views the fair as “an eco­nomic engine in small com­mu­nities, giving busi­nesses and farms the oppor­tu­nities to advertise, connect, and network with the com­munity.” 

Besides the impact on com­munity members, members of youth devel­opment groups are losing the main event they’ve been preparing for all year. Hull said Hillsdale County 4‑H usually has about 400 members who par­tic­ipate in the fair with exhibits that include sewing, cooking, live­stock, crafts, pho­tog­raphy, and more. 

The county fair is a lucrative event that is essential in the upbringing of small-town youth. Castillo said par­tic­i­pating in 4‑H teaches life skills such as “com­mu­ni­cation, lead­ership, respon­si­bility, and sports­manship.” 

Castillo par­tic­i­pated in 4‑H for years in the areas of hor­ti­culture, canned goods, and pho­tog­raphy. She stressed the impor­tance of 4‑H in small farming com­mu­nities.

“Fairs give these kids an oppor­tunity to show off what they’ve been working on all year long,” Castillo said. 

Hull said that to make up for the loss of an in-person fair this year, there will be a virtual showcase to rec­ognize 4‑H par­tic­i­pants’ hard work.

In an effort to rec­ognize 4‑H par­tic­i­pants, Matthew Shane, the Michigan State Uni­versity Extension Dis­trict 12 Director, said there are some alter­na­tives to an in-person county fair. 

“The Hillsdale County 4‑H com­mittees have decided not to offer a virtual auction format for youth, but rather encouraged youth to pri­vately market their projects,” Shane said.  

The Michigan State Fair LLC is putting on a state-wide showcase that several youth from Hillsdale have chosen to par­tic­ipate in. Shane is hopeful that this still gives youth par­tic­i­pants a chance to “further develop their skills for future projects.”

Busi­nesses at the fair such as car deal­er­ships, con­cession stands, and private sellers bring an esti­mated $40,000in revenue to the fair annually, Hull said.

Hull pre­dicts that more than 200 vendors will feel the reper­cus­sions of the fair closure. 

An article pub­lished by the Hillsdale His­torical Society notes that the first recorded Hillsdale County Fair took place on Oct.15, 1851. 

The local news­paper reported the event to be “beyond expec­tation for the first agri­cul­tural fair in Hillsdale County.” The fair has brought in thou­sands ever since. 

According to the Hillsdale County His­torical Society, the county fair was nearly for­feited in 1861 due to the fair’s financial resources going toward the Civil War. 

The legacy of the Hillsdale County Fair has been well revered for over a century. Even though the fair is can­celed this year, Hull and her com­mittee have high hopes for an even better return.