Rachel Grimes exhaled Thursday evening as she gazed over the many contest entries displayed in the Exhibit Hall.
Nearing the end of another long day, Grimes, who manages the Teton County Fair, was preparing to lock up the hall on Snow King Avenue. The fairgrounds across the street were quiet, the usual noise of live music, carnival rides and crowds gathered around food vendors absent, more victims of COVID-19.
“Because of COVID, our fair looks a lot different this year than it normally would,” Grimes said. “Essentially, all of the entertainment portions of the fair have been canceled this year. Typically, on a normal year, we’d have a large midway on the northwest corner of the fairgrounds. We would have vendors — food vendors and tchotchke vendors — over in the Grassy Arena. We’d have a big tent over there with a free stage and live music and a beer garden and things like that.”
Attractions like an inflatable paintball course, a petting zoo and a reptile exhibit, the fair rodeo and the nightly ticketed grandstand events were also scrapped June 8 by the Teton County Fair Board.
The financial impact?
“In short, we’re putting on a $100,000 fair this year instead of a $450,000 fair,” Grimes said with a sigh. “So, huge.”
But rather than wallow in self-pity, Grimes and her staff set out to make the best of a difficult situation, with the full support of the Teton County Fair Board. Though disappointed that the fair had to be so drastically scaled back, Grimes remained upbeat. At about midday Friday, she was found sitting at the door to the Exhibit Hall, cheerily greeting visitors who came to view contest entries and wishing them well on their way out.
The number of entries in the various competition categories in the Exhibit Hall — photography, varied cooking categories, painting, LEGO-making and much more — was at least about the same as last year, if not more. In fact, this year a new category was added: Fittingly, it was homemade coronavirus masks.
Also fittingly, after judging Wednesday, the ribbon for LEGO-making Best in Class sat atop a LEGO reproduction of the county fairgrounds, complete with “Teton County Fair” stickers.
Though the rodeo went by the wayside, Grimes said the fair board was determined to forge ahead with the local youth 4-H events.
Also, Grimes said, “pretty much all of our entries for horse show events have doubled this year.” She attributed the rise primarily to two things: one, people have had more free time on their hands during the pandemic to ride their horses and practice, and, two, rodeo events had to be cut.
“People are just looking for something to come compete in with their horses,” she said.
Like Grimes, Madison Doering and Brian Becerra maintained a positive outlook about the fair Friday as they looked over Doering’s prize-winning entries in the Exhibit Hall. Doering took first-place ribbons for two photos in the “Teen Photography” division and first- and second-place ribbons for two watercolor paintings she entered in the “Teen Painting” division.
The two lifelong Jackson residents said they miss hearing live music with their friends and families, but they didn’t have to look hard to find the positives in this year’s fair.
“I feel like it’s back to how it used to be,” Becerra said. “It’s more simple. It’s kind of nice that it’s not that noisy. But there’s a real difference between how busy it was compared to this year.”
Doering said, “What I realized is that even though the coronavirus is here, we still have all of these entries, still as many entries as if we didn’t have coronavirus here.
“People have more time to get crafty,” she observed.