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Organizers of canceled OC Fair hope to raise spirits with virtual versions of fan favorites

A Ferris wheel at the Orange County Fair
From July 17 through Aug. 16, visitors can enjoy an annual tradition without having to leave their homes, as a Virtual OC Fair rolls out online concerts, competitions and tours.
(File Photo)

When the leaders of the Orange County Fair announced in late April this year’s festivities would not be taking place in Costa Mesa, due to a coronavirus pandemic still wreaking havoc on even the best laid plans — fairgoers were crestfallen.

“It was just depressing,” recalled Costa Mesa resident Kelly Haggard, 48, an avid fairgoer who’s attended the event for more than two decades. “It literally felt like it was going to be a year without a summer.”

Gone were the pig races, contests and treats from Terri’s Berries. No concerts, no viewing the table setting displays, no wine garden.

Not wanting to let fair fans like Haggard suffer through a summer marked by canceled gatherings, holidays and beloved annual traditions, fair officials are planning a virtual celebration that will bring the fun to them.

From July 17 through Aug. 16, people will be able to enjoy some of their favorite fair highlights without having to leave the comfort and safety of their homes as the Orange County Virtual Fair rolls out a suite of contests and competitions, cooking demonstrations, online tours and more.

The O.C. Virtual Fair
The O.C. Virtual Fair, which takes place July 17 through Aug. 16, will feature online concerts, competitions and more.
(Courtesy of the O.C. Fair & Event Center)

Michele Richards, chief executive of the OC Fair & Event Center, said Thursday organizers hope the virtual event will be for fans a bridge between this year’s cancellation and the fair they hope to hold in 2021.

“We’d love for them to have that great feeling — a little bit of it, anyhow — they get when they come to the fair and they walk through the gates and feel they’re in a magical place,” she said. “If we can bring that to the virtual fair, we will have accomplished our goal.”

Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach announced Thursday that they would also be shutting down their beaches on Sunday. Orange County will also close its beaches.

The annual Jr. Livestock Auction, which last year featured the sale of 257 animals and brought in a total of $279,476, has been forgone, but organizers connected 4-H and other student groups to interested buyers remotely, so projects could be completed.

The annual Fun Run 5K race has also gone virtual, with medals and giveaways for participants.

Instead of hauling in jams, vegetables and artwork to be scrutinized by a panel of in-person judges, competitors can submit photos for a virtual contest in one of 33 categories before Monday’s deadline.

Evy Young, the fair’s agricultural education supervisor, said a few brand-new competitions have been specifically created for a “These Times” contest designed to capture scenes of life during the pandemic.

Orange County Fair livestock
Organizers of the Orange County Fair connected 4-H and other student groups to interested buyers remotely, so livestock projects could be completed despite this year’s cancellation.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

“These are unique categories that were created for these unprecedented times,” Young said. “It’s not the categories we would have had in a regular fair season.”

A “Best Bedhead” category will let people show off untrimmed quarantine hairdos, while a “Home” category offers a chance for those working from home to share their creative in-home office ideas.

For people who saw the OC Fair as a prime opportunity to shop for gadgets, food items and local services, organizers have compiled a list linking visitors to vendors online.

Costa Mesa will reduce its workforce across all sectors by 5% in 2020-21. But two council members said hastily made agreements violated a policy promising transparency in labor negotiations.

Food and farm vendors are creating video demonstrations and tours for a virtual opening day. For example, chef Dominic Palmieri, aka the “Midway Gourmet,” will teach viewers how to make deep-fried Oreos.

The OC Fair was expected to generate more than $36 million in revenue through Aug. 31, including $11 million in ticket sales and $12.9 million in carnival and concession purchases, according to fair documents.

Spokeswoman Terry Moore said Thursday the online version is more of a tribute than an attempt to recoup losses.

“The virtual fair, truthfully, is not really a revenue generating opportunity,” she said. “It’s more about keeping the spirit of the fair alive.”

Richards said organizers hope create a virtual community gathering during a time when many friends and family members can’t physically be together.

“We know it’s tough out there,” she said, “but we want to bring a little joy to our guests.”

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