State Fair Doubles The Fun
The Louisiana State Fair Offers a Taste and More
State Fair of Louisiana President and General Manager Chris Giordano remembers clearly when the dominos started to fall. It was March 11 of this year when the huge Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo abruptly closed just days after opening because of growing coronavirus concerns. One of the first positive cases of Covid-19 in the Houston area was a man who attended a barbecue cookoff at the rodeo. According to attendance numbers, 73,433 people had attended that same day. It was the early days of the pandemic. No one knew what to expect or had protocols prepared, and the risks seemed too great. Within days, fairs, festivals and livestock events around the country started to tumble, either postponing or canceling planned 2020 events. The vendors, entertainers and carnival ride companies who made a living from fairs saw income drop to near zero. Giordano, who has been close to the fair business for most of his life, witnessed something he had never seen before.
The Executive Board of the State Fair of Louisiana was watching all this transpire, too, thankful that the local State Fair was the last fair of the season. They hoped that by October, the virus would be gone or at the very least be a limited concern, and that the fair would be our local return to “normal.” By the middle of July, it became apparent that “normal” was not to be, and Giordano began submitting plans of action heavy on social distancing and safety protocols to the Louisiana State Fire Marshal. “We went back to the drawing board multiple times,” says Giordano. “It became apparent that indoor activities and carnival rides were a big hang up.” Giordano had help in his plan. The Delaware State Fair had created what is acknowledged the model of how to run a large safe event; they willingly shared information with Louisiana and other fairs around the country. Though Delaware’s fair revenue dropped by 50%, not one case of Covid was linked to their event.
This gave the State Fair of Louisiana the blueprint it will use in its Oct. 29- Nov. 8 “Taste of the State Fair” event. This “taste” will help return a sense of normalcy but incorporate safety protocols such as mask use, social distancing, hand sanitizer stations and outdoor activities.
Thirteen food concessionaires from around the country will bring their fair favorites and set up a food court. Been craving corn dogs, funnel cakes, deep fried candy bars, caramel apples? Start dieting now to get ready – they’ll all be available.
The Junior Livestock Show and Market Oct. 28- Nov. 2, the ALTAC Jr. Livestock Sale on Nov. 4 and the National Brahma Bull Show Nov. 3-7 will celebrate young farmers and the area’s important agricultural component; a Halloween horror drive-in movie will be held on Oct. 31; and each Saturday and Sunday will feature events such as a car show or Sunday Funday Markets. Many of the events are free to attend, and there will be no charge for parking. It seems people are ready for some fun. Fair-related social media posts have been huge, seeing 5,000 shares per post and hitting audiences of more than 450,000.
Giordano, his board and employees thank everyone for their ongoing support. “Some of the larger events have money in the bank to sit out a year or two, but the vast majority must have their gates open to survive,” says Giordano, noting that the Louisiana State Fair is one of those. That is why 2021 will be a special year. The 114th run of the fair, scheduled for 2020, will be held April 29- May 9, 2021, and a few months later, in October, we will welcome the 115th year of the fair. “It’s Double the Fun in 2021,” laughs Giordano. It is point of pride that the 114th fair has not been cancelled. Since its beginning in 1906, the state fair has cancelled only once – in 1918, the year of the great Spanish influenza pandemic. There are 24 million reasons why the fair should move forward. A 2003 LSUS Center for Business study of the economic benefit of the Louisiana State Fair showed it invested $24 million annually into the local economy. Money goes to students in 4H and FFA in the form of scholarships and livestock sales. Hotels and motels rent rooms, vendors sell goods, employees are paid, items are purchased, and memories are made by the 350,000-450,000 people who attend. It is “The” State Fair of Louisiana and it is no small thing. Giordano is hoping that if the state fair is held, people will come. It will help us all if they do.
Liz Swaine is the executive director of the Shreveport Downtown Development Authority and the 2021 chairman of the State Fair of Louisiana.