A major announcement this week from Vermont's governor means the state's largest annual event will be coming back — providing a lifeline to a nonprofit that says its future was riding on the return.
The Champlain Valley Fair announced it will take place Aug. 27 through Sept. 5, a run made possible by the upcoming removal of capacity limits on events, whether they are scheduled outside or indoors.
The end-of-summer tradition typically draws 120,000 or so guests a year, according to fair organizers, but had to be canceled last year due to COVID-19.
Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, announced the strong uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines in his state is letting him lift all capacity limits on events by the Fourth of July — though virus mitigation steps will stick around.
That announcement may just have been a lifeline for the nonprofit Champlain Valley Expo, which hosts the Champlain Valley Fair and many other events — such as RV shows, bingo nights and boat shows.
The Expo's Jeff Bartley told NECN the finances of the 130-acre campus in Essex Junction some years end up barely in the black. He added the Expo survived 2020 only thanks to federal rescue funds and good relationships with lenders.
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Therefore, he said, 2021 could've been bleak, or maybe even the end of the road for the facility as we know it, if it weren't for that good news on lifting capacity limits.
"Having the fair back means CVE is going to survive," Bartley said, adding the organization was overjoyed to hear Scott's announcement this week. "If we go away or we start having to sell space, that could be pretty devastating for the community."
Already, Bartley said promoters are calling to secure space at the facility, now that they have time to plan and confidence gatherings will be allowed. He said one event, a gathering of car enthusiasts, has already been booked.
That is sparking optimism for critical cash flow, he added, explaining the Expo's revenue from hosting vaccine clinics isn't covering debt or capital costs.
The new path to reopening Scott announced also means contractor Chris Farley could come in to spruce up long-dormant facilities.
"There's a lot of work to prepare," Farley said, as he worked to replace rotten wood in an old barn used during the fair to educate children about farming. "We're making sure everything’s done and done right, and getting everything ready for everyone to come back and enjoy the fair."
Curt Echo, a food vendor at the Champlain Valley Fair, said he is relieved the future of the Expo looks much more secure.
"I can't imagine the area not having a fair," Echo said. "And that got a little scary thinking, 'Maybe these things don't come back,' but having it come back is exciting."
Echo added that he is confident pent-up demand to get out of the house means the 99th Champlain Valley Fair and other events now in the works at the Expo will finally have the area feeling normal again.
"Normal would be so welcome, wouldn't it?" Echo said.
Click here for more information on the nonprofit Champlain Valley Expo.