While the total attendance to this year’s Dubuque County Fair fell below the busiest single day in previous years, organizers said it was a success given the myriad challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s fair drew 11,271 attendees from Thursday to Sunday — a far cry from last year’s attendance of 71,015.
But the pandemic prompted a huge wave of changes to this year’s event, including the shortened, four-day schedule. Also, the big-name, grandstand concerts were canceled, there were no carnival rides, and some other staples of the summertime event were absent.
And concerns about the coronavirus undoubtedly kept other normal fairgoers away, though organizers installed dozens of hand-santizer stations throughout the grounds. And in addition to daily deep cleaning, staff cleaned restrooms and high-touch points multiple times throughout the day.
Masks were not required, but the fair board purchased about 3,000 masks and offered them free of charge to attendees who wanted them. A little less than 1,500 were distributed over the four days.
“I made no (attendance) projections in a year with COVID,” said Fair General Manager Kevin Kotz.
However, he added that the fair, which he believes was the first in the area to move to a four-day schedule, was a “success” given the circumstances.
Favorable weather also helped attendance, Kotz said, with cooler temperatures on the racetrack to close festivities.
Saturday had the highest single-day attendance this year, with 3,531 people. A total of 3,251 turned out on Friday, 2,569 on Sunday and 1,920 on Thursday.
Last year’s fair, which lasted the typical six days, drew more than 71,000, including more than 16,000 on its opening day.
Total attendance at the annual event generally has increased since 2011. More recently, there was a 17% increase in attendees from 2017 to 2018, with another 4% increase in 2019.
Both Kotz and Dubuque County Fair Board President Daryl Biechler said this year’s attendees were respectful of social distancing, given the current health crisis.
“We did our due diligence, and people did absolutely fantastic in the stands,” Kotz said.
Biechler added that he was especially happy with the attendance of this year’s motorsport events.
The demolition derby was moved from Sunday afternoon to the Friday night grandstand slot. The truck and tractor pull and stock car races also were featured events.
“It was great people were able to come out and enjoy the show,” Biechler said. “It gave them something to do, and they showed up.”
Kotz said none of the racetrack or animal shows were as busy as usual, but numerous people expressed interest in keeping the demolition derby as an “under the lights” event in the fair’s future.
Looking forward to next year, Kotz said things like extra handwashing stations are likely to be part of the fair’s norm.
Already, concerts for Chris Lane and Queensryche have been rescheduled for next year.
“My biggest hope for the community is that there’s a vaccine for COVID,” Kotz said. “But after that, I hope we can get back to the regular fair.”