coronavirus pandemic

With Big E's Major Showcase Lost to Pandemic, Vt. Businesses Hold Virtual Expo

The Vermont building at the Big E in West Springfield, Massachusetts, generates approximately $1.2-million in sales for 30 vendors

NBC Universal, Inc.

A beloved New England tradition was supposed to be getting underway this weekend in West Springfield, Massachusetts: the Eastern States Exposition, better known as the Big E.

Although the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of this year's fair, the state of Vermont has come up with a way to make its piece of the Big E virtual.

"It's a huge contributor to our business," Jamie Neuman of Cold Hollow Cider Mill said of the Big E.

Cold Hollow, which is famous for its cider donuts, apple pies, and other Vermont treats, would normally be in high gear right now in Massachusetts for the Big E.

The fair, which drew more than 1.6-million visitors last year, won't operate during the pandemic. That will mean sales losses for Cold Hollow and the other 30 merchants who normally set up shop in the fair's popular Vermont building.

"We've had two calls today from people from Massachusetts that got our catalog in the mail and placed an order because they didn't know how they were going to get their donuts from the Big E this year," Neuman told NECN.

The state of Vermont owns that pavilion at the Big E, to promote agriculture and tourism. It racks up around $1.2-million in receipts for Vermont vendors in just over two weeks, according to Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.

Now, during the COVID-19 era, the Vermont Building at the Big E is going virtual.

A state webpage directs Big E fans to where they can find the names they'd normally see at the fairgrounds, so they can place orders with Cold Hollow and others.

Several merchants are even offering online discounts through that virtual Vermont Big E expo.

"It's certainly not the same experience, but just a couple clicks away, people can experience Vermont and really support these businesses because those 17 days were so important to them, and that's been lost this year," Tebbetts told NECN in an interview Thursday.

"It's probably, at this point, 10 percent of our yearly sales in 17 days," Mark Baker of the Vermont Flannel Company said of the Big E.

The Massachusetts event has always helped plant seeds with crowds that would pay off during the holiday shopping season, Baker added.

The Vermont Flannel Company is optimistic the state's new virtual fair will help it generate web sales after months of year-over-year declines at bricks-and-mortar locations.

"If we can have a strong online presence the next three or four months, I think it will stabilize us going into next year," Baker said.

The Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing said Thursday it is working on other promotions for the state's critical foliage season, aiming to boost sectors hit hard by the pandemic.

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