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Ionia Free Fair canceled this year because of coronavirus

“Toughest decision ever made.”

IONIA, Mich — Organizers of the 2020 Ionia Free Fair have canceled the event, citing concerns over the uncertainty of the crisis and the challenges of adhering to health, safety and social distancing guidelines as the determining factors.

The Ionia Free Fair board of directors voted on the decision this week.

“It was the toughest decision we’ve ever made as a board,” said Lisa Sanford, an Ionia veterinarian, and the fair’s board president. “The fair represents so much for our community — a sense of pride, an important and festive community gathering, an economic impact, and intergenerational fun for so many people."

"To see us have to cancel it this year when we would have celebrated our 105th fair, just didn’t seem right, but ultimately we all knew it was the right thing to do," Sanford continued.

According to Sanford, the board had been deliberating the future of the fair, including mapping out ways in which to still have a smaller version of it, for a few weeks. Ultimately, they were left with no choice but to cancel. Sanford said there were too many factors beyond organizers control.

In its history, the Ionia Free Fair has not been canceled in its entirety since the last World War.  

In recent years, a press release from the Ionia Free Fair said it has attracted more than 300,000 visitors over the course of its ten days of operation. Majority of the fairgoers were from Ionia and its immediate surroundings; the fair said visitor demographics showed in recent years between 40-45% of visitors were traveling from the Lansing area and West Michigan. 

“Historically, for many Ionia residents, the fair was their family vacation, and we’re talking extended families — aunts, uncles, grandparents,” said Kirk Wolthuis, acting fair manager and vice-president of the fair board. “But we are also aware that our appeal and attendance was growing.” 

“As a board, we just didn’t think it was fair to any of our loyal fairgoers — from around the region — to delay making this tough decision any longer," he continued.

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The Ionia Free Fair is not alone in making the decision to cancel. Other large festivals and events have canceled in recent weeks, including the annual National Cherry Festival in Traverse City during the July 4th weekend, Unity Christian Music Festival, Michigan Irish Music Festival, Muskegon RockStock, Burning Foot, Fruitport's Old Fashioned Days, Tulip Time, B-93 Birthday Bash, Electric Forest and more. 

Immediately following the vote to cancel, the board started putting a plan together for the 2021 Ionia Free Fair.

“We’ll be back in 2021, stronger, more vibrant and ready for a community-wide celebration that will more than make up for this year,” said Sanford.



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