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With Phase 5 possibly a year away, 2020 Du Quoin State Fair is 'long shot'

  • The Art Deco treasure that is the Du Quoin Fairgrounds grandstand, could be empty this year

    The Art Deco treasure that is the Du Quoin Fairgrounds grandstand, could be empty this year
    Courtesy of Illinois Landmarks

By Renee Trappe
updated: 6/3/2020 10:48 AM

The state of Illinois has not decided whether to hold the 2020 state fairs, but Du Quoin State Fair Manager Josh Gross said Monday it is definitely a "longshot," based on the governor's five-phase recovery plan.

"There is still no decision but I can tell you it's a very big longshot at this point," Gross said. "We have to be in Phase 5 (of the five-phase Illinois COVID-19 recovery plan) to have a fair, and the chances of that happening by the end of August are almost nil."

Gross expects the state will make its decision by the end of June.

The Du Quoin State Fair is estimated to be worth $6 million in revenue to the southern Illinois region, according to an economic impact study done a few years ago. That includes what visitors spend on motels, camping, gasoline, food, supplies and more.

Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan doesn't kick in until there is either a COVID vaccine or highly effective and widely available treatment -- or the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period. Experts have said it could take a year to reach Phase 5.

Meanwhile, Gross said the fair staff has been operating under the assumption there will be a fair in 2020. They have been talking with vendors and grandstand acts.

"We're reaching out to our food vendors and our free entertainment -- most of which were scheduled and contracted last year," he said.

Some grandstand artists have agreed to play the Du Quoin State Fair if one is held, but no contracts are signed. And not every sought-after act is coming out on tour this summer, Gross added.

"Some are canceling their tours for their own safety," he said.

"If we do have to cancel (the fair) we hope they'll come back next year."

Gross said while the state fair is the biggest event at the Du Quoin fairgrounds each year, the grounds host as many as 250 events a year, all of them bringing visitors who spend money in Du Quoin and southern Illinois.

Meanwhile, the Du Quoin State Fair has had very little financial outlay so far, Gross said. He added that the contracts all have an "act of God" clause built in, in case there's a pandemic or the grandstand burns down from a lightning strike.

The staff is still setting up events for later in the year. The Continental Tire Street Machine Nationals, another huge event at the fairgrounds, has been rescheduled from June to October.

Gross said they are trying to work with other canceled events to come to an arrangement where they can still be held. And if 2020 isn't possible, "We want to entice them back in 2021," he said.

In 2019, attendance went up at the fair by 20% to 22%. Actual gross receipts were down about $40,000 because the fair quit charging for admission.

"We won't charge for admission again, as long as I'm here," Gross said.