The “inside baseball” knowledge regarding the planning, coordination and implementation of holding a county fair is that most of the work is done several months if not a year prior to opening day.
But due to COVID-19 restrictions causing the cancellation of the 2020 Grays Harbor County Fair and causing uncertainty if and when a current-year version of the fair would even be possible, that time to do most of the work was decreased.
“We had about four to five months of planning to do in about five to six weeks,” Grays Harbor County Fair Manager Mike Bruner said. “We did everything we could through the spring, then we were in a holding pattern for about five to six weeks before fair.”
So it could be considered a minor miracle that facing a near-impossible time crunch and a 40% reduction in office staff that the Grays Harbor County Fair, which ended on Saturday in Elma, was held at all.
But not only was Bruner and his staff of office personnel and volunteers along with vendors, sponsors and groups, such as 4-H and the Future Farmers of America, somehow able to come together and make it all work, they thrived.
The 2021 version of the county fair — which was reduced from they typical five days down to four — pulled in near record numbers compared to its record season of 2019.
Bruner stated the total attendance was 66,076 over four days for the 2021 fair, which ran from Wednesday to Saturday.
That’s just off the five-day fair record of 72,816 set in 2019.
While he was still figuring the financial bottom-line on Monday, Bruner estimated this year’s fair brought in approximately $152,000 over four days. That estimate did not include concert and presale tickets, as well as parking revenue.
By comparison, the fair took in approximately $167,000 over five days in 2019.
“We are maybe $10-12 thousand down from 2019, but that is for a four-day fair,” Bruner said, adding that based on the 12,000 per day attendance average, the 2021 fair was on pace to break 2019 records for attendance and revenue.
“If we would have added a fifth day, we would have easily established a new record,” Bruner said. “If we meet 80% of 2019 revenues, I’ll be really happy.”
Another success of this year’s fair is the positive feedback from vendors, attendees and representatives from the state’s fair commission.
“Most of our food vendors reported record sales. So one less day, but record sales,” Bruner said. “And the carnival dwarfed their Grays Harbor County Fair records. They have never been so busy here. So that was fantastic.”
Bruner added there was a different energy at this year’s fair as attendees were just excited to be back at the fair after a year off. He stated the energy was noticed by a state fair commission representative that was keenly interested in the Grays Harbor County Fair, it being the first larger-sized fair the representative attended this season.
“He was just basically saying this is the first bigger county fair he was able to evaluate and he could see that jump in energy and how people were to be able to come to the fair, and the attendance spoke to that as well,” Bruner said.
So after completing a successful fair in the most unique and peculiar of circumstances, Bruner was thankful of all those that came together to make it happen.
“I’m super proud of the effort of our staff, our volunteers, our fair board,” he said. “The way that people came together I think this fair of all fairs I feel best about the synergy and the passion that was there. Everybody knew what we were up against and accepted that challenge and worked together to accomplish something people thought that we might be biting off a little more than we could chew.
“If you would’ve told us six weeks ago when we committed to having a fair when everything opened up and the rules changed for us, if you would have told us we were going to have the fair we had back then, we’d have been very happy. It turned out well considering we had a lot less time to plan and get into the details of what we normally do.”
Bruner said there was a time when he and his staff was worried that all the hard work would be for not, but after seeing the results continued to give thanks to those that made it all possible.
“That was another big thing we were concerned about. What if we do all this work to have a fair and nobody comes out and the community doesn’t embrace it?,” he asked.
“The response was overwhelming. The people were ready to come back and have something to do. … We have sponsors that stayed committed to having a fair and I wish the general public and our fairgoers knew just how hard our volunteers work and what it takes for them to put on the fair. It really comes down to the volunteers and superintendents in these barns and departments that bring exhibits in … that’s the heart and soul of our fair. I just want to thank all those people for their hard work and being dedicated and passionate to the fair.”