Deena C. Bouknight
This year was supposed to mark the 67th season of the Macon County Fair. Instead, a recent Macon County Fair Facebook post announced: “We are saddened to say we will not be hosting a true fair this year. The building and grounds will be closed to the public during fair week. We will be hosting the Macon County Livestock Shows for Exhibitors and Families – Only.”
Since 1953, the Macon County Fair, located at the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center on Georgia Road, started out as and has remained one of North Carolina’s “agricultural only” fairs. The week-long fair has always offered various events, exhibits, entertainment, and food, but missing has been a midway with various rides. However, visitors have been able to look forward to arts and crafts, livestock and animal shows, competitions for every age, and much more
Yet, just like most festivals, activities, and events in 2020, COVID-19 has shuttered the Macon County Fair, which was supposed to take place Sept. 23-26.
According to Dennis Conley, chairman of the fair for more than five years, “It was a difficult decision to make, but based on North Carolina restrictions we didn’t see any other options because we can’t guarantee social distancing or mask wearing with the crowds that the fair draws.”
Conley said that other than the fair cut short a few days in September 2004 due to flooding and the catastrophic Peeks Creek mudslide in Macon County, “the fair has always gone on.”
He added, “I’ve been involved with the fair for about 20 years, and I hated we can’t have it but it’s what we had to do for this year.”
Because the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center obtains at least 70 percent of its annual operating revenue from the fair, Conley explained that a letter was sent out to the fair catalog mailing list as well as various vendors and buyers associated with the fair asking for a monetary gift in lieu of advertising or renting a booth.
“We want to be transparent about what is occurring,” said Conley. “We are the only free fair in the state and that’s why we’ve run a tight budget. We operate year to year and we generate about $26,000 for our annual budget … a good $20,000 comes from the fair, so if we don’t get some money coming in, there is the potential for us to have to close down the center for regular meetings and use during the year. But so far, the letter we sent out has generated a tremendous response.”
Conley indicated the donations coming in indicate Macon County’s support of the fair.
“We appreciate all the donations so far and their kind generosity. We have appreciated their patronage and we look forward to the fair next year … hoping this [COVID-19] has all gone away.”
The goat, lamb, hog, and steer shows, which take place each day from Sept. 23-26, are for participants and family members. An auction is scheduled for the evening of Sept. 26, and Conley said, “There will be limited capacity, and social distancing and masks will be required at all the shows and the auction.”