"A Crippling Blow": California Fairgrounds Call on State for Support


No derby or any other events this year at Redwood Acres, probably. - FILE
  • FILE
  • No derby or any other events this year at Redwood Acres, probably.
The Redwood Acres Fairgrounds is one of several fairgrounds across California encouraging the public to reach out to legislators for help weathering an extraordinary year in revenue losses. Ben Brown, who took the helm of Redwood Acres as CEO in February, calls the situation “a pretty crippling blow”

“We’ve cut everything we can,” says Brown, explaining that some employees have gone to reduced hours and others have been laid off. Under direction of its board, Brown has worked to defer payment on some loans while searching for alternate sources of revenue. A whole slate of annual and recurring events, from the Redwood Acres Fair to monthly flea markets, have been canceled. That, combined with the loss of two food business that had been part of the fair’s food incubator model, totals up to an estimated loss of one third of the facility’s annual budget. And others have it worse.

“The projections are maybe half the fairs are going to run out of cash before the end of the year,” says Brown, referring to recent information from the California Fairs Alliance. “The last thing I heard is potentially 20 fairgrounds are not going to make it through this month. It’s looking awfully grim right now.”

To that end, the alliance has launched a lobbying campaign encouraging people to call or write to their local legislators and encourage support of county and state fairs.

“From creating cherished family memories and generating revenue, jobs and tax dollars, to serving as an essential evacuation site during natural disasters, losing our fairgrounds would leave a giant void in communities large and small across California,” reads the website, which also has T-shirts for sale.

Major events such as fairs or stock car rallies are in Phase 4 of the state’s phased re-opening plan. Humboldt County is currently in Phase 2 and Brown says while he hopes the fair will be able to accommodate annual events such as the monster truck rally scheduled for October, he is prepared for the worst. A resurgence in COVID-19, as some models have shown as inevitable for the fall, could mean an extended pinch for the Redwood Acres Fairground and its cohort.

Currently the fairgrounds are housing a COVID testing center and hospital overflow area as part of its agreement with the Office of Emergency Services. The fair expects to receive reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, although when that aid will arrive is unclear. The testing center and overflow area is expected to remain in place until at least the end of the year. The hospital area has yet to be used for patients but if that were to change, events such as the monster truck rally would be a no go, says Brown. And if there is an additional public emergency, such as a major fire event, things could go even more sideways. Redwood Acres Fairgrounds is the designated incident command center for emergency services. Normally the area now being used for COVID-19 testing and for hospital patients would be the staging area for incident command.

“OES could take over all the space and push out the [food] businesses,” says Brown, adding that he finds the scenario unlikely. “Being in Eureka I don’t think we’re going to be used as staging point.”

But even as Brown girds himself for the worst and encourages fans of the fair to lobby representatives for statewide support of the industry, community members have found creative ways to keep the spirit of the fair alive. First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, for example, collaborated with the owners of local essential businesses to set a price point and purchase the animals that were initially going to be sold at the Junior Livestock Auction. The meat will be given to the employees of those businesses. If you’re interested in buying an animal, Brown encourages you to contact the Humboldt County Fair Association, where boosters are bringing the auction online.

“We’re sold out,” says Brown.

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