It’s official — the King County Fair, Enumclaw’s largest annual event, has been cancelled in the wake of COVID-19.
The Enumclaw Expo and Event Association made the sad announcement in a May 14 press release.
“It is beyond disappointing to the Expo Board of Trustees, Expo staff and Fair Manager René Popke [that we] will not be able to produce a long standing summer tradition that would have been celebrating 157 years this summer,” the release reads.
This is the second time the “oldest fair west of the Mississippi” has been cancelled in just over a decade. The first was in 2010, after a long stretch of declining attendance. Despite coming back in 2011, interest in the fair continued to decline until 2015, when control of the event was given to the EEEA. Since then, the organization has revived the event, boasting that 30,000 people attended in 2019, an 8,000 increase over the previous year.
The EEEA said they made the decision to cancel the fair because its set date (the third week in July) coincided with the soonest possible date Gov. Jay Inslee could move King County into Phase 4 of re-opening the economy, allowing groups of more than 50 to gather and large events to take place.
“The financial risk attached to the King County Fair with risk that there could be set-backs to any phase makes it very difficult for the production to move forward,” the EEEA wrote.
According to Popke, the fair is “our major funding source to operate the grounds,” as the EEEA net profit from the event is just under $100,000.
Of course, the business impact extends far beyond the Expo Center.
“Hotels will take a hit – with the Fair and Scottish Highland Games being back to back and both canceling, that is a huge hit for hotels, restaurants, coffee stands, and downtown shops,” Popke said. “Many traveling acts, entertainers and Fair exhibits travel throughout the Fair circuit and often rely on the ‘next town’ to be the place to get tires rotated, oil changed, stock up on groceries. I recall last year referring multiple vendors to repair shops and local businesses for their immediate needs while in Enumclaw.”
In 2013, it was estimated the King County fair left a $5 million footprint on the local community.
“It is a rough estimate that the average person spent $72 at the King County Fair last year,” Popke continued, which comes out to around $2.16 million. “This does not include stopping for gas, eating at a restaurants on the way, grabbing a coffee, etc. The impact this size of event has outside the gates in a community our size is huge!”
But not all is lost — while the fair normally includes the 4-H competition for King County students, the EEEA said it is working with the Washington State University 4-H program to host the competition in conjunction with the August Enumclaw Pro Rodeo, meaning students should still have a shot at advancing to the state competition at the Washington State Fair.
“Finding a solution to support the 4-H youth that have invested so much time and money into their animals has been a huge factor that staff and volunteers have been navigating through,” the EEEA wrote. “The youth have worked so hard and, let’s be honest, have been home working more than ever with their animals this year, with hope the King County Fair would allow them to showcase their animal to qualify and advance to the Washington State Fair.”
Additionally, the annual Junior Livestock Market is still being planned for the weekend of July 19, though COVID-19 makes it likely this year’s market will be a little different than in years past. (The EEEA press release mistakenly said the market would be hosted on July 18.)
“More details will become available on this event as to whether it will be on the grounds or virtual,” the EEEA continued. “If you are in the market for a hog, steer, or small animal or simply want to support the hard work that youth are putting into raising animals for market, please continue to check our website for more details.”
The Expo Center’s August events, which include an RV Show, the Olympic Kennel Club Dog Show, the Pro Rodeo and the highly-anticipated second-annual Balloon Glow, have yet to be cancelled.