DURHAM — The 101st Durham Fair was originally scheduled to take place this weekend, but was canceled in May due to COVID-19 and has left a void in town.
If the weather cooperates, the fair can attract more than 220,000 visitors over the course of its three and a half days and requires around 1,700 volunteers.
Daniel Miramant, the president of Durham Agricultural Fair Association, said it was a tough week for all who love the fair.
“The fair would have started today,” Miramant said on Thursday. “It’s a melancholy feeling. We have 1,700 volunteers that look forward to this every year. I feel bad for our non-profits. We have about 7,000 residents in Durham and Middlefield and this event brings the community spirit together like no other.”
This was just the fifth time the fair has been canceled in its storied history.
Durham First Selectwoman Laura Francis, who’s been involved with the fair in a variety of capacities for two decades, said the impact of the fair not being held is massive.
“It’s almost immeasurable,” Francis said. “It leaves a void on so many different levels. We all miss seeing each other. This time of year and the weeks leading up to the fair we are having our committee meetings. That’s special times together. We have our normal traditions on the weekend of the Durham Fair. It’s special family time. We take our family photo with four generations at the fair each year.”
In addition to the emotional loss, groups are feeling the monetary strain of losing their top fundraiser for the year. Non-profits, civic groups and faith-based organizations have been hit the hardest.
“The fair is also away for us to show off our town to people around the state including some people from surrounding states,” Francis said. “We are also missing the families that show their animals. They are normally part of a show circuit that goes to different fairs around the area and train all year for this. There are so many ways we are going to miss out this year.”
Francis said many families are coming up with ways to make the weekend special by making fair food of their own.
The Durham Agricultural Fair Association says on its website, “See you in 2021!”
“Here’s hoping that our health crisis is ended by then,” Francis said. “If we are still in an environment where we still need to be careful, we will be careful when we open up and adjustments will be made. Everyone is very excited for next year for sure.”
Francis said the initial cancellation in May was difficult.
“Some people knew it would be difficult and others were willing to wait until the last minute but we agreed to a unanimous decision, which I was pleased about. We are all in this together and there were tears shed, including some of my own,” she said.
Lyman Orchards tried to fill the void for some on Friday with a Beer Maze Tasting & Southern Voice Band event. The event’s 100 tickets sold out in two days.
Lyman Orchards’ Executive Vice President John Lyman said he wanted to start the event this year in the spirit of the Durham Fair weekend. Lyman Orchards has a fruit display at the Durham Fair each year.
“We wanted to give it a try and we may do a few more, but we wanted to get one under our belts to see how it goes,” Lyman said. “We’re excited and this is a little bit of a twist on some of our other offerings. There seems to be a lot of interest in it.”
The corn maze has had increased attendance this year and will remain open until Nov. 1.
“Our business is strong,” Lyman said. “Without the fairs, people are looking for things to do and orchards are a good family activity.”
Miramant said the Durham Fair will come back stronger next year.
“We are keeping our chins up,” Miramant said. “There are a lot of things going on in the world but we are keeping an attitude. We are making the best of it. We have no choice. We are trying to come up with some surprises for next year.”