A year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed plans for the 2020 Gwinnett County Fair, but fairgrounds manager Dale Thurman believes it could inadvertently boost this year’s fair.
The fair will kick off Thursday at the county fairgrounds in Lawrenceville. When it does so, it will mark the first time since September 2019 that Gwinnettians have been able to enjoy the annual fall tradition.
“We’re excited to be able to do it again so we’re trying to get everything where everybody can come out and have a good time,” Thurman said.
The fairgrounds was not unlike other venues around the world that had to close and cancel all events for a while last year because of the pandemic.
But, once the fairgrounds could reopen and resume holding events again, with health precautions in place, Thurman said there was an overwhelming response that gives him hope for this year’s fair turnout. Fair organizers anticipate a turnout of about 200,000 people — depending on the weather — during the two weeks that the fair is taking place, which would be on par with pre-pandemic attendance numbers.
“Since we have opened back up the weekend events, every one of them has been at record capacity so I feel like that’s going to continue,” Thurman said.
“People just seem to want to get out. I think we all got cabin fever over that time frame when we couldn’t (go out), so I feel like we’ll have a good turnout.”
And if the other events held recently at the fairground isn’t enough of an indicator for the fair’s turnout, there’s also the phone call factor.
“Just basing it on the phone calls we’ve been getting since the spring, every time there was some carnival in a shopping center or something, they thought we were in operation and they wanted to come right back,” Thurman said. “Just listening to phone calls, we think people are ready to get out and pre-sale tickets has gone real well so all of the early indications are good.”
The fact that the fair is returning this year became physically evident on Tuesday as workers were busy installing the rides, games, food and exhibit booths.
While large crowds are expected, Thurman said precautions will be taken to limit the chances of spreading the disease.
These precautions include recommending attendees wear face masks — although they won’t be required to do so — and also reducing the number of indoor exhibits to allow for social distancing in the exhibit halls. Seating will also be spread out at the Miss Gwinnett Pageant on Saturday night to allow for social distancing and keep people separated from each other.
“Everything else will be outdoors so that will keep people separated too,” Thurman said.
The exhibit area is also being changed out this year in partnership with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to highlight products grown in Georgia. This will be the first the Grown in Georgia exhibit has been seen outside of the Georgia National Fair in Perry.
“If we had to go through all of this, we’re glad we have something different to show folks,” Thurman said.
Thurman said the new exhibit will give fair attendees a chance to learn more about the foods grown in Georgia, essentially offering a lesson in what “farm to table” in this state looks like.
“It’ll be a bit educational and points out a lot of things that most people don’t know is part of the Grown in Georgia thing so we should create some interest with that,” Thurman said.
As tradition, admission to the fair will be free on Thursday for opening day festivities, but attendees will still have to pay for ride tickets, games and food. A $22 unlimited ride stamp will be offered on opening day, but the cost can drop to $20 if attendees bring a non-perishable food donation for local cooperative ministries.