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Coronavirus leads to L.A. County Fair cancellation. It’s the first time since WWII

Pre-pandemic, visitors crowd the L.A. County Fair at the Fairplex in Pomona.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

It looks as if Angelenos will need to make their own deep-fried Twinkies, chocolate-covered bacon and gargantuan turkey legs at home.

For the first time since World War II, the Los Angeles County Fair has been canceled. It’s yet another cultural touchstone lost because of the coronavirus outbreak, which has prompted stay-at-home orders and limits on large public gatherings.

“It’s unlikely that a vaccine will be discovered in the next few months,” said Miguel Santana, chief executive of Fairplex, a private nonprofit that operates the fair. “Our first and foremost concern is the safety of our guests and our staff.”

Most other regional fairs scheduled for this summer in Southern California have already been canceled, including the Ventura, Orange County, San Bernardino and San Diego county fairs. The Santa Barbara County Fair, scheduled for July 15-19, has yet to be canceled.

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The L.A. County Fair has long been among the last fairs of the season, scheduled this year for Sept. 4-27.

The California State Fair and Food Festival, originally set for July 17 to Aug. 2, has been canceled, but fans can still order fair food, including barbecued brisket, macaroni and cheese, and funnel cake, which they can pick up at a drive-through at the Sacramento fairgrounds on May 22.

The Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday called off its entire 2020 season, a first in the Bowl’s nearly 100-year history. It joined a lengthy list of non-happenings, including South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, in March, Indio’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April, San Diego’s Comic Con in July and, of course, all professional sports everywhere.

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The annual celebration of deep-fried snacks, carnival rides and farm animals at the Fairplex in Pomona originally launched in 1922 and was last canceled from 1942 to 1947 because of World War II. The fair also closed on Sept. 11, 2001, as terrorists attacked the U.S., but reopened the following day.

Annual attendance numbers have wavered between 1 million and a high of 1.3 million in recent years, with declines blamed on unusually hot weather.

As recently as last week, CEO Santana said he held out hope for opening the fair by requiring new safety measures, such as social distancing. But he said he changed his mind earlier this week after meeting with Barbara Ferrer, the head of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, who told him it would be difficult to operate a fair under such circumstances.

“Working together to slow the spread of COVID-19 is our new normal for the foreseeable future,” Ferrer said in a statement. “But I have faith that if we continue to make these difficult but necessary decisions now, we will be able to enjoy all that the L.A. County Fair has to offer next year.”

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Santana said the cancellation would be a severe financial blow to the Fairplex, which draws nearly half of its annual revenue from the fair. He pointed out that the Fairplex had already canceled or postponed 30 other events at the facility, including car shows, a beer and food festival, a Fourth of July celebration, an Oktoberfest and a Day of the Dead event.

About 80 of the Fairplex’s 140 full-time year-round staff members have been furloughed.

The nonprofit Fairplex generated nearly $70 million in revenue in 2018, with about $45 million coming from the county fair and other events, according to the most recent financial report from the Fairplex.

The county fair supports more than 500 full-time jobs during the fair event, creating an economic impact of $324 million in Los Angeles County each year, according to the Fairplex.

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“We must make these short-term sacrifices to preserve the health of the people we love,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said of the cancellation. “We do this to protect our communities.”

The only events taking place at the nearly 500-acre facility are coronavirus testing, drive-through food pantries and free child care for the children of healthcare workers, first responders and other essential workers at the Fairplex Child Development Center. The Sheraton Fairplex Hotel, on the Fairplex property, is being used to house dozens of medical professionals and first responders who have been exposed to the virus or have tested positive and have nowhere else to self-isolate.


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