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First Wisconsin State Fair Held During COVID-19 Pandemic Ends, With Vendors Giving Mixed Reviews

Wisconsin State Fair
Chuck Quirmbach
Pleasant weather greeted fairgoers for the final day of the Wisconsin State Fair.

The Wisconsin State Fair has wrapped up its first 11-day run since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair officials say they won't have this year's attendance figures until Wednesday, so it hasn't been revealed if the fair returned to its pre-pandemic days of more than 1 million people or fell off due to COVID or other concerns.

Fair Park CEO Kathleen O'Leary told WUWM yesterday that there were plenty of challenges: "Obviously, with seven days of inclement weather that included a 100-year storm, heat indexes of 107, dew points of 80 and two severe storms before that, that's a hard one to come off, never mind our situation with the pandemic. So, we are certainly happy with any of the numbers and for the people that have come out."

With the blue skies and comfortable temperatures over the weekend, it appeared plenty of folks showed up for the last few days.

But if overall the numbers were down this year that wouldn't surprise Curtis Griffin. He's a third-party retailer for communications companies. He says his booth inside the fair's Exposition Center had fewer customers, leaving him disappointed.

"Because everybody's got families to feed, right? We're here trying to make it happen, but it's tough," Griffin says.

But other vendors report a better year.

Chuck Quirmbach
Customers at Paintball Dave's booth at the Wisconsin State Fair fire paintball pellets at targets Sunday.

Down the aisle at Paintball Dave's, small balls of paint or dye splatter on the wall or on hanging frying pans serving as targets, as customers fire the balls from airguns. Owner David Rudig says business was wonderful. "Not because we're doing anything special, but there's just not very much to do, which is great for us. We love it," he says.

Rudig explains that he saw fewer vendors offering younger people interactive activity. He says one of his customers was a 26-year-old basketball player by the name of Giannis Antetokounmpo, when the Milwaukee Bucks superstar visited the fair August 9.

The state fair did offer one booth it probably hopes it has never has to offer again. It was where people could get a COVID-19 vaccination shot, and receive a voucher for a free cream puff. Hundreds of people made the trade. But while resting behind the booth, a Sheboygan man who gave his name as Jeff said Sunday that it was more social pressure that prompted him to get vaccinated.

"I feel like a social pariah, putting it off this long. I wasn't sure about the safety or the efficacy of the vaccine," Jeff said. He said he opted for the Johnson & Johnson shot because he believes it has fewer potential side effects for him than the other brands.

Chuck Quirmbach
The Wisconsin State Fair hopes to reach new heights in 2022.

With the fair now closed, local and state health officials will look for other locations to find people who want the vaccine.

The fair will tally its revenues and expenses, survey its vendors and exhibitors and meet with the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board in October.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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