After a quiet start to 2021, Pat Slusher Jr., a Southwest Washington Fairground employee, says the fairgrounds may be busier than ever this year despite the pandemic. Lewis County announced this week that the fairgrounds can begin event planning again as part of Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan.
“I think we’re going to have more (events) than ever because we’re getting calls from outside of the county,” Slusher said Tuesday. “People really want to do something.”
The Southwest Washington Fairgrounds can be seen from above on Thursday afternoon.
The announcement means bookings can be resumed, but it will be about a week before Slusher and other exhibition site staff have a clear picture of the event schedule for 2021.
“Everyone can’t get a cent. Everyone has to contact all of their suppliers and go through all of these things, ”he said.
According to state guidelines, exhibition grounds with a capacity of 25% or 200 people (excluding staff) can be resumed, whichever is lower. For “very large venues” with an area of over 100,000 square meters, the events are limited to 300 people.
First, the exhibition center has to bring its employees back with practically no events after several months. The pandemic and the subsequent cancellation of the 2020 trade fair led to a significant economic decline for the facility, which ultimately led to the district firing its trade fair and event manager.
What is clear so far, Slusher said, is that the Country Chicks market – with over 100 vendors selling “shabby chic” homeware – is slated to be back in June and the gun show will return.
He noted that residents shouldn’t take the recent cancellation of the Spring Youth Fair as an indication of what the fairground’s schedule will be for the coming months.
In a normal year, the exhibition grounds are activated for events on around 200 days a year. Now, in addition to the selection of the jury – which still takes place in the facility to maintain social distance between the jurors – mass vaccination events must also be planned. Slusher, along with JP Anderson, director of public health, said the mass vaccination events and the events at the fairgrounds will not interfere with one another.
“It is coordinated and the vaccination work is not hindered,” said Anderson via text.
Slusher said it was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together and he wasn’t very concerned about planning vaccination events.
Lewis County helped Providence build the community’s first COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic in late January and later reached an agreement to continue using the fairgrounds for that purpose. Another clinic is planned for next week.
At the request of the state, the district officials also made a proposal outlining how the fairgrounds could be used as one of the state’s mass vaccination centers.
Cars stand in line as patients prepare for last month’s first round of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds.
A full-time state vaccination clinic would certainly throw a wrench into the exhibition grounds’ event plans. But according to Anderson, it doesn’t seem to be on the cards. Weeks after submitting their proposal, district officials have not received a response and are unsure if the state has any plans for additional mass vaccination sites that have been criticized as inaccessible by some local officials and are hindering local efforts.
According to Slusher, the number of callers expressing interest in hosting events is likely due to other function rooms being converted into full-time vaccination centers. For example, the Benton County Fairgrounds and the Clark County Fairgrounds are home to two of the state’s four mass hospitals. Wenatchees Town Toyota Center and Spokane Arena are home to the other two.
“There are other facilities that they work full-time and that is not the case here … it won’t get in the way,” Slusher said. “The thing at the exhibition center, and a lot of people don’t know that it’s really a multi-purpose facility. We can accommodate many different things at the same time. “