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Arts & Culture

The Ohio State Fair returns at full capacity after years of pandemic shutdowns

Ohio-State-Fair.jpg
Ohio Country Journal
The junior horse show is one of the events that predates the opening of the Ohio State Fair.

For the first time in three years, people will crowd the midway as the Ohio State Fair returns in full capacity next Wednesday. Thrill rides, food, animal shows and free parking highlight a return to central Ohio’s summer staple event.

State Fair 2022 horse show pavilion
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Folks ready their horses for competitions before the fair opens to the public

It’s a cloudy, rainy day here at the state fairgrounds just off Interstate 71 on 17th Avenue. The junior horseshow is underway. Folks are guiding their horses through the grounds to the Gilligan Complex and other pavilions for the competitions. Onlookers watch from the stands.

Horse shows like these are a precursor for what is to come when the fair opens to the public in seven days. Staff members are setting up concession stands and rides like the Ferris wheel, which was set up on Monday.

A horse at a pre-show for the 2022 Ohio State Fair.
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WOSU
A horse at a pre-show for the 2022 Ohio State Fair.
State Fair 2022, Devon Hull with horse
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Devon Hull stands with his horse outside of the Gilligan Complex.

“The butter cow or seeing Smokey Bear in natural resources park or the rides, the giant slide, the sky glider, the livestock shows, all of those things are going to be back this year,” said state fair assistant manager Alicia Shoults.

She and other fair officials completely canceled the fair in 2020, then opted for just livestock and horse shows with no guests or rides last year. Much of their usual space went to fighting the pandemic.

“The Ohio Expo Center as a year-round facility was able to be home to testing and vaccination sites and storage,” Shoults said.

Fair organizers used the downtime to rethink some of the fair's activities. It moved sporting events from the Buckeye Building to the new airconditioned Kasich building. Livestock shows will now be under the same roof on each Saturday. The Showplace Pavilion will house a “marvelous mutts” performance show. Fair organizers are also launching a mobile app to make it easier for folks to navigate the grounds.

One way fair organizers are trying to attract more people this year is free parking.

“Free parking could be a little bit of a financial hit for us this year,” she said. “But making an event that’s of value to Ohioans, we want to put that good event on and we want to welcome Ohioans back.”

State Fair 2022 Setup
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WOSU

While the Expo Center operates year-round, revenues from the state fair are separate from those activities. Not having a typical fair for the past two years certainly left some money on the table, but Shoults said it might not be as much as some people think.

“The profit of revenue we would make is anywhere between $500,000 to $700,000,” she said. “It’s certainly nothing to turn your nose at, but it’s not a huge profit.”

In 2019, fair-only revenue was $9.6 million with a profit of $656,946. In 2018 the fair made about $9 million in revenue with a profit of $487,251.

Shoults said those revenues are unpredictable.

“Fairs are very weather dependent,” she said. “If we have beautiful sunny 70-degree weather I think we’ll have an amazing fair. But if there are dreary, rainy days, that makes it a lot more difficult for patrons to want to come out.”

Shoults is optimistic about this year’s turnout. On top of the typical attractions, a ticket also gives fairgoers access to a Natural Resources Park, fishing, kayaking, petting zoos and more.

“There’s the OVMA veterinary education center where mother cows give birth to calves during the fair," she said. "There are farms you can visit, the big boar, the largest pig in the state of Ohio.”

Another popular draw at the fair returns this year with the concert lineup. Headlining acts this year include Ice Cube, Willie Nelson and Foreigner.

The fair opens July 27 and ends August 7. A full schedule and hours of operation can be found on the State Fair’s website.

state fair sign with ferris wheel background
Tyler Thompson
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Once setup is complete, this parking lot will be teeming people, rides and concession stands.

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Arts & Culture Ohio State Fair
Tyler Thompson as a reporter and on-air host for 89.7 NPR News. Thompson, originally from northeast Ohio, has spent the last three years working as a Morning Edition host and reporter at NPR member station KDLG Public Radio and reporter at the Bristol Bay Times Newspaper in Dillingham, Alaska.