For just the eighth time in the fair's 134-year history, The State Fair of Texas is canceled for the upcoming season. The fair made the announcement on their website Tuesday morning, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.
"With a heavy heart, we are announcing that the State Fair of Texas will not open for the 2020 season. We believe the spirit of the Lone Star state lies in every Texan’s ability to care and look out for their neighbor and it is with this in mind, we have decided to keep our guests, staff, and partners safe and healthy during these uncertain time. Click the button below to find out more information about this news, including refund information for those who have already purchased a ticket. We look forward to giving y’all a great big Howdy in 2021."
In a message posted on their YouTube channel, the State Fair of Texas said the decision to close this year's fair was made so that we could best take care of our neighbors and those we love.
"Being Texan means being friendly and lending a helping hand. This year those essential traits of being a Texan matter more than ever. In that spirit, we must take care of our neighbors and protect those we love. This means the State Fair of Texas will not open for the 2020 season. We share this news with a heavy heart, but we know it's the right decision for everyone," the fair said in the video.
Fairgoers who have purchased tickets or season passes for the fair will automatically be issued refunds, officials said. Refunds should be completed in 10-14 days -- anyone with questions can contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Coupons bought in previous years are always good at the fair and never expire.
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Organizers said they talked with "fairgoers, concessionaires, commercial exhibitors, Midway operators, auto manufacturers, business partners, staff, medical experts, and government officials" before reaching their decision to cancel this year's fair.
The fair said they worked to develop contingency plans to keep attendees and workers safe, but knew that if any of those plans failed it would only contribute to further spread of the virus.
“While we are heartbroken at the notion of not welcoming more than 2.5 million of our closest friends for this annual celebration of the Lone Star State, the excitement we feel in moving forward with planning the 2021 State Fair of Texas and keeping this 134-year tradition alive will keep us motivated until we can greet our fairgoers, seasonal staff, and business partners again in a safe environment,’” said Mitchell Glieber, president of the State Fair of Texas.
The move to cancel this year's fair is not a total surprise. Officials told NBC 5 in May that the Midway would remain closed over the Fourth of July, due to the pandemic, and that they were focusing all of their efforts on the annual fair and trying to find a way to keep it open this fall.
"At the end of the day, this is the right thing to do to help prevent any further spread of this horrible virus," said Karissa Condoianis, Senior Vice President of Public Relations for the State Fair of Texas.
One of the fair's most iconic offerings is a Fletcher's corny dog. Amber Fletcher of Fletcher's Original Corny Dogs told NBC 5 she understands the decision to cancel.
"We stand with the State Fair of Texas decision. It is for the health of the community," said Fletcher.
While Fletcher's operates two food trucks that are available for hire, Fletcher says the business will take a major hit.
"We typically sell 500 to 600 thousand corny dogs in 24 days," said Fletcher. "With all of our catering, pop ups, and public events, we don’t do that in 12 months."
“It’s a magical experience at the state fair. Not to have that will be sad, but we are looking forward to 2021," Fletcher added.
Fletcher is one of several concessionaires carrying on a long time family tradition.
For sisters Johnna McKee and Christi Erpillo, there were tears learning they wouldn't set up shop again this year to serve the funnel cakes that made thier mom Wanda "Fernie" Winter state fair royalty.
But 51 years after their parents started the business, they feel confident canceling now rather than mid-fair is the responsible decision.
“We have all put our minds together, concessionaires, the state fair management team, and tried to figure out a way to make this work. But just by the sheer dynamics of the fair, it’s impossible to social distance and wear a mask," said Christi Erpillo. "I mean, it’s not going to be very easy to walk down the midway and stuff a funnel cake in your face. So it was a hard decision, but I think they made the right call. We just all need to stay safe right now."
The fair said they were fortunate to be in a healthy financial position and that nonprofit efforts will continue and that the Big Tex Youth Livestock Auction and livestock shows, Big Texas Scholarship Program, Big Tex Urban Farms and other community outreach initiatives will continue to have funding.
Organizers said the NCAA, respective conferences and universities that play football games at the Cotton Bowl during the fair will make decisions on whether or not those games take place, but that if they take place they will take place in Fair Park.
UT Vice President and Athletics Director Chris Del Conte said in a statement Tuesday the Longhorns are preparing to play the Sooners in Fair Park on Oct. 10 but realize that due to the pandemic that may change.
“Though we certainly respect and understand the decision of the folks in Dallas on their cancellation of this year’s State Fair of Texas, we fully anticipate that our annual Red River Showdown with Oklahoma will be played in the Cotton Bowl and are continuing to prepare for that," Del Conte said.
OU Vice President and Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione had a similar message and said the Sooners hope to play the game in Dallas but will be monitoring the situation.
“We understand and respect the decision made by the State Fair of Texas and acknowledge that it was an extremely difficult one. Our hope remains that we can play the OU-Texas game at the Cotton Bowl, but obviously every aspect of our season requires constant monitoring and planning. The best thing all of us can do at this time is closely follow CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus.”
So far, there's been no statement from either Grambling State or Prairie View A&M who are scheduled to play at the Cotton Bowl on Sept. 26.
The 2020 theme for the fair was "Celebrating Texas Icons," and was to honor the larger than life symbols associated with the Lone Star State. Think of things like Willie Nelson, space shuttles and tacos.
The cancellation of this year's State Fair of Texas is the first time the fair has not opened in 75 years -- since World War II. The fair was previously canceled because of World War I (1918), planning for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition and 1937 Pan American Exposition at Fair Park (1935 – 1937), and World War II (1942 – 1945).
The State Fair of Texas will return in 2021 and is scheduled to run from Friday, Sept. 24 through Sunday, Oct. 17.