By Kara Dense, Executive Director of the Greenbrier County CVB
Historically, the third Saturday in August is time for a special tradition in the Greenbrier Valley. A time for barns full of livestock to showcase, the shining lights of a Ferris wheel on the midway, the sounds of live music on the Grandstand Stage, and the sweet smell of Ben Ellen donuts or fresh roasted corn in the air.
What would typically be Fair Week is not so this year.
Due to the formidable enemy, COVID-19, the State Fair of West Virginia canceled this year, only the second time since it began as the Greenbrier Valley Fair in 1890. This 10-day event is a staple in our community and has a tremendous impact on our local economy and the businesses and residents that rely on it each year.
Let’s talk numbers. The State Fair of West Virginia generates:
- Annual attendance of 160,000
- Annual payroll for Fair Week of $250,000
- Carnival ticket sales of $1 million
- Annual concession / food sales of $2.5 million
- 500+ youth exhibitors from 4-H, FFA, etc. from each of West Virginia’s 55 counties
- Award Showcase premiums of over $200,000 (livestock, culinary competition)
- Civic group participation (parking lot service, etc.) annual payments of $27,000
- More than 600 campers (In 2019, campers represented 20 different states)
What’s more, these numbers do not include the economic impact of guests coming to Greenbrier County to stay in our hotels, eat meals in our local restaurants, and shop in our downtowns as part of their visit to attend the State Fair. The loss of that annual economic impact is daunting, not only for the Greenbrier Valley but also for the State of West Virginia.
In 2011, The State Fair commissioned an economic impact study. At that time, the study showed the Fair had a $13.8 million impact on our area. Those dollars also provided sales tax revenue produced as part of the 10-day event.
Over the years, the State Fair, a not-for-profit, 501 c 3 organization, has continued expanding its footprint and creating an opportunity to transform the fairgrounds in Fairlea positively. What began as a week-long or nine-day event has transformed itself into a premier multipurpose event center for our region. Boasting more than 40,000 square feet of indoor space, and four acres of outdoor space, plus 1000 campsites, the use of the fairgrounds has grown exponentially and evolved to a year-round destination.
While we are no strangers to adversity throughout the Greenbrier Valley, when it was decided to cancel this year’s State Fair, we collectively mourned the loss of this storied tradition. We know our strength and collaboration have been our superpowers in recent years. This year, and this challenge, are no exception. When the world hit “pause,” we knew we must adapt, as we have in the past.
Identifying opportunities, engaging partners, and defining a sense of familiar tradition in the chaos of change, was our driving force. We see this at The Greenbrier, we see it in our downtowns, and we see it at the State Fair.
In late July, State Fair CEO Kelly Collins created the “A TASTE OF THE FAIR” event to showcase State Fair food vendors. Originally imagined as a four-day event, it has now been extended through the fall. Each weekend, food vendors are open at the Fairgrounds and selling their memorable treats.
While it may not be the Fair, it can certainly taste like it. These days as we crave a sense of normalcy, we’ll gladly take it.
There’s a colloquialism that notes the strength of a tree lies in its ability to bend. Throughout the Greenbrier Valley, time and time again, we see resiliency in the face of adversity as we face life in times of Covid-19. Bravo to our partners, like the State Fair of West Virginia, for leading the way.
Kara Dilley Dense is the Executive Director of the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau. With 27 years of experience in the travel industry, Kara is a recognized tourism and travel industry leader in West Virginia. Kara is a gubernatorial appointee to the West Virginia Tourism Commission and serves on both the Board of Directors for the West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association and the Southeast Tourism Society. She was awarded the Generation Next award by the State Journal in 2010, named one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Forty for the Future in 2012, and the 2017 West Virginia Tourism Professional of the Year.