With coronavirus ravaging the land from sea to shining sea and then some, and the need to socially isolate and avoid crowds, was there any doubt the San Diego County Fair would happen.
Nope, and it became official this week as the 2020 San Diego County Fair website magically transformed into the 2021 San Diego County Fair page proclaiming in large white letters: “We’ll see you next year!”
Tuesday’s meeting of the Fair’s governing body, the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds shut down the good times scheduled to run from June 5 to July 5.
Board President Richard Valdez told the San Diego Union Tribune after the unanimous 2020 no-go vote, that he had planned to delay a decision for another week or more, but Gov. Gavin Newsom’s media briefing earlier in the day made it clear there will be no large gatherings this summer.
“Our vendors are relying on our decision for determining whether they can go forward,” Valdez said. “There is a tremendous amount of preparation and expense involved.
Fair officials said in a written statement: “Based on Governor Gavin Newsom’s press conference today where he stated, ‘The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get a vaccine, mass gatherings are not likely to be allowed for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we believe it is the responsible decision to postpone the San Diego County Fair to 2021.”
Tim Fennell, longtime CEO/General Manager of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, added some context to the cancelled event whose whose once and future 2021 theme is “Heroes Unite!”
“The health and safety of our community takes precedence during this unprecedented time of crisis,” Fennell said. “The San Diego County Fair is a beloved family tradition for more than 1.5 million San Diegans each year, as well as a source of livelihood for numerous individuals and businesses. Yet with the continued impacts of COVID-19, postponing this year’s Fair is the right thing to do.”
Fennell added: Making the decision to postpone this year’s Fair was no easy feat. The Fair is truly a labor of love that our staff, vendors, sponsors, community members and volunteers pour many months of planning into. Yet, as the largest annual event in San Diego County and one of the top five fairs in North America, we’re following the recommendations of public health officials to postpone mass gatherings until it is safe to host them again.
For now, Fair officials said the facility, well-known also for trade shows, musical events and, of course where the turf meets the surf in terms of world-class thoroughbred horse racing, is “on standby to be utilized for Emergency Operations Services at any time. We’ve partnered with the San Diego Food Bank to serve as a food distribution site, have donated several hundred N95 masks to health care providers and will continue looking for ways to serve the community.”
Officials said they would continue to heed advice from Governor Gavin Newsom, the California Department of Food & Agriculture and the California Department of Public Health as they moved forward.
“We will begin hosting and planning future events once it has been deemed safe to do so, officials said. “Until then, stay healthy and strong, San Diego. We can’t wait to celebrate the heroes among us at next year’s Fair.”
“Wizard of Oz” was the San Diego County Fair’s 2019 theme, harkening to its origins as an agricultural fair in 1880. The location moved from place to place for several years, finally settling on the Del Mar Fairgrounds in 1936. The fair was open for 26 days, spread over five weekends, culminating on the Fourth of July.
For those jonesing already about the lack of Fair fun this year, check out this blast from the 2019 past for a taste of what could have been:
What now, brown cows
While the agricultural displays and ferris wheel rides will have to wait for another year, dozens of fair vendors were scrambling to come up with ways to survive. Del Mar Fairgrounds executive chef, Barry Schneider, managed to save a few roles with a creative new food service, according to KNSD 7 News.
“We have over 400 events a year here and of course the fair is one of our biggest,” said Schneider. With no events for which to cook, Schneider created “Del Mar Meals on the Go” allowing him to staff at least eight employees.
“We’re not going to be bringing back about 100 seasonal employees right now,” Schneider said. “We’re just doing what we can right now to service the community and keep it going.”
And Chicken friggin Charlie’s, the longtime Fair got-to venue for the finest and weirdest fried food products anywhere on the planet, what up with that?
Owner of @chickencharlies tells me they will get through this despite losing out on the thousands of customers he gets from the @SDFair But, with the Fair ? not happening in 2020 he’s coming up with some creative take-out ideas ? ? Watch @nbcsandiego https://t.co/bSyLdwTXHV pic.twitter.com/lac00jFgdb
— Melissa Adan (@MelissaNBC7) April 15, 2020
Charlie Boghosian is the man with the plan in charge of the Chicken Charlie’s empire, a string of at least five stands across the County Fair., And it’s where Boghosian got his very first job.
“That was 37 years ago and I’m still there,” Boghosian said with a laugh. “I love the San Diego County fair, it’s in my blood.”
This will be the first San Diego County Fair Boghosian will miss and Chicken Charlie’s is already feeling the loss. “Our whole life is based around the fair, so the money we make at the fair pays all our bills all year long,” said Boghosian.
“You’re getting a good two to 300 people on a great day,” Boghosian continued referring to his Rancho Bernardo restaurant, “where at the fair you’re getting 50-to-60,000-to-100,000 people a day. You can’t compare the money it’s not even in the same ballpark,” said Boghosian.
Despite the challenge, Chicken Charlie’s owner has some fair themed plans cooking.
“We’re going to start offering fair food, we’re going to do turkey legs, cotton candy, triple decker’s,” Boghosian shared excitedly. “I’m gonna do it right here and we’re gonna have deep-fried saltwater taffy!”
Boghosian said customers can check Chicken Charlie’s social media sites with announcements of their special fair foods.
Across California, county fairs
Equal parts carnivals, community celebrations and commemorations of a rich agricultural legacy — are being canceled, postponed or downsized amid the pandemic, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Events ranging from the San Bernardino County Fair to the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee have already been struck from the calendar, and state officials are warning not to expect large-scale to-dos to resume anytime soon.
“The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.
A similar fate could befall the Orange County Fair, which drew nearly 1.4 million attendees last year. Its board of directors will meet April 27 to discuss whether to cancel the event, which is scheduled to run July 17 through Aug. 16
The Contra Costa County fairgrounds in Antioch is among those that will be converted into a possible care site for COVID-19 patients, officials said. That county’s fair — previously scheduled May 14-17 — was canceled in mid-March.
Chief Executive Joe Brengle said in a statement that the facility “is here to help the community during this time of need, and happy to work with the county of Contra Costa as we all work together to end this pandemic.”
At the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, “There are currently 10 temporary trailers on site that could potentially be used for emergency housing for unsheltered residents,” according to spokeswoman Terry Moore.
A Brief History of the San Diego County Fair
In 1880, a group of San Diegans organized an agricultural Fair to bring county farmers together to share ideas, see who had the best citrus fruit, who baked the best pie, and who had the fastest horse. By the 1930s, faced with fairs that struggled each year for survival, voters approved pari-mutuel racetrack betting to help fund the state’s agricultural fairs. In 1936, the 22nd District Agricultural Association bought land at the mouth of the San Dieguito River for a county fairgrounds. About the same time, the Del Mar Turf Club leased the racetrack from the 22nd DAA to operate an annual live racing meet.
And so it continues today. The 22nd DAA, an agency of the State of California, still owns and operates the Fairgrounds. Its staff organizes four major annual events, including the annual San Diego County Fair, and runs Surfside Race Place, the year-round satellite horse racing facility. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club still leases the facilities for its live meet each summer. And hundreds of consumer and trade promoters rent the Fairgrounds facilities for home and garden shows, dog shows, antique fairs, sports shows, music festivals and much more. No tax dollars are used; the Fairgrounds is entirely self-supporting.
Click on the links below to learn more about the Fairgrounds’ history. The information contained in these articles comes from several San Diego County newspapers; a 1974 book, Del Mar Decadesby Elizabeth Whitfield Richards; a 1988 book, Del Mar: Looking Back by Nancy Hanks Ewing and the Fairgrounds’ own archives.