Sandwich Fair canceled for 2020 because of COVID-19 pandemic

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SANDWICH – For the first time since it began more than 130 years ago, the Sandwich Fair will not take place.

The Sandwich Fair Association Board of Directors wrote in a July 1 news release that the decision to cancel the fair, which draws thousands of people to the area every year, was based on COVID-19-related information provided by the DeKalb County Health Department, the Illinois Department of Public Health and guidelines provided by Gov. JB Pritzker. The fair had been scheduled to take place Sept. 9 to 13.

The fair will be rescheduled for Sept. 8 to 12, 2021.

Larry Dannewitz, president of the Sandwich Fair Association, said the fair having run every year since 1888 is one of the popular event’s claim to fame. He said the fair didn’t close during the Great Depression in the 1930s, nor did it close during World War I or World War II – but it will have to be canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a hard pill to swallow, let me tell you,” Dannewitz said.

Dannewitz said patron, staff and vendor safety was the main reason for the cancellation. He said the announcement didn’t come sooner because fair officials were waiting for more state guidance and how that would apply to fairgrounds, and they remained hopeful that, perhaps, larger gatherings of people would be allowed in Phase 4 in the Restore Illinois reopening plan.

But Dannewitz said Phase 4, which went into effect June 26, allows for no more than 50 people in one space, and fair officials didn’t think the state would move to Phase 5, the last phase of the reopening plan, before September.

“We’re not good at social distancing at a county fair,” Dannewitz said with a laugh.

Brad Anderson, general manager for the Sandwich Fair Association, said the fairgrounds will remain closed for the rest of the year. Since the fairgrounds is considered a mass gathering space by state standards, he said, it will not be able to open until the state moves into Phase 5.

“It’s not a huge surprise,” Anderson said, but they were hoping the later event dates would give them more buffer time for state guidelines to be on their side.

An annual autumn harvest celebration event in the area benefiting Growing Hope Globally, an organization that hosts fundraisers to donate to people in developing countries to learn how to grow their own food, also has been canceled this year, said Jerry Lundeen, who helps plan the event. He said he was told by fair association officials that all events at the fairgrounds were canceled for the rest of the year.

Lundeen said the event typically raises between $15,000 and $18,000 annually. He said local chapters of the organization will have to find other ways to help raise funds for the cause to stave off hunger among vulnerable populations in the world.

“I’m frustrated, let’s put it that way,” Lundeen said.

Dannewitz said the association needed to cancel the September fair along with other events for the remainder of the year as soon as they thought it wasn’t happening so fair partners and vendors could plan accordingly, sooner rather than later.

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