For everyone who’s ready to take a little break from the stresses of a pandemic and bask in the aromas and flavors of honest-to-goodness carnival food, the State Fairground in Fairlea is the place to go.
A pop-up outdoor food court has materialized on the carnival midway track near Gate 6 of the fairground and is providing a welcome respite for those yearning for corn dogs and ribbon fries, funnel cakes and lemonade, and a whole bunch of other enticing fair food.
The local vendors who thought up the idea for what is being called the FAIRtastic food trucks are no strangers to the foodies along the fair and festival circuit in the two Virginias. Greg Miller of Miller & Company and Garrett and Holly McCormick of GH Concessions found a welcome reception at the State Fair Event Center when they proposed bringing their festive food trucks to town three months earlier than usual.
“We would be home if we weren’t here,” Garrett McCormick said.
With the winter festival season cut short and the summer appearing pretty bleak, thanks to the COVID-19 crisis causing the vendors’ usual events in such places as Roanoke and Wytheville, Virginia, to be canceled this year, the McCormicks found themselves feeling restless after a few weeks at home.
Along with Miller, the couple approached State Fair CEO Kelly Collins about setting up in a visible site on the fairground for a week or two. Collins was more than willing to green light the novel endeavor, which is now entering its third week.
“We’ll probably be here until the end of the month or maybe a little longer, depending on sales,” McCormick said. “It’s good so far. Business has been pretty steady. People like it.”
In addition to the items named above, the vendors’ offerings include hot dogs, hamburgers, steak sandwiches, sausage hoagies and ice cream.
They’re open for business Thursday through Sunday between the hours of 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. and are set up at the southwestern edge of the fairground. Gate 6 is open during the the food trucks’ business hours to provide easy access from U.S. 219 South.
Like the vendors, Collins hopes this year’s State Fair of West Virginia will occur on schedule in mid-August.
“We’re still proceeding with plans for the fair,” Collins told The Register-Herald.
“We’re following state and national leadership on this,” she added. “Public safety is the most important thing.”
Collins is keeping a close eye on the gradual loosening of restrictions on various businesses in the state, joining in the hope that the COVID-19 tide continues to ebb.
While the fairground is spacious, and quite a bit of the fair’s activities take place outdoors, many vendors and exhibits are set up inside structures such as barns, exhibit halls like the West Virginia Building and the belly of the grandstand. Thus far, indoor activities have seen much tighter restrictions on crowd sizes, with meetings limited to 10 attendees, for example, while outdoor activities must top out at 25.
The State Fair attracts thousands of people to the fairground on each of its 10 days, and musical acts pack the grandstand seats most nights. Like concerts and sporting events, the fair will be among the last in West Virginia to see its restrictions lifted.
“We’re last on the list,” Collins acknowledged. “We know we’ll have to make changes, and we’re prepared for that.”
While she hasn’t spoken directly with Gov. Jim Justice about the issues, Collins said she knows he and the others on the state’s pandemic response team are weighing all of the factors before making a decision on what shape the State Fair will need to take this year.
“They’ve done a great job so far,” she said.
Begun in the 1800s as the Greenbrier Valley Fair, the exposition was recast as the State Fair of West Virginia in 1941, only to shut down from 1942 through 1945 because of World War II. To this day, those are the only four years the State Fair has been canceled.
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