Organizers, community saddened over no fair

Annual event was to begin Thursday but nixed by COVID-19

The Maui Fair, which was supposed to begin next week, has been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shown is an aerial photo of a previous fair at the War Memorial Complex that annually draws more than 90,000 people for its four-day run. — Maui Fair Alliance photo

Sadness and disappointment filled the hearts of Maui Fair leaders, organizers and participants, who would normally be busy preparing for the county’s largest event held annually around this time.

Instead, they sit on the sidelines. COVID-19 canceled the nearly century-old tradition that was set to begin Thursday.

There will be no parade down Kaahumanu Avenue. No fair food eaten. And no rides, games and thrills for the keiki.

Fair organizers announced the cancellation in May due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are waiting to see what the situation will be like next fall.

“Our entire community is saddened with the reality that there will be NO Maui Fair next week; this grassroots annual event has been the island’s single largest social gathering for nearly a century,” said Maui Fair Alliance President Avery Chumbley in an email this week.

Mana‘o Radio volunteers (from left) Holly Hume, FJ Forest, Renee DeAhl and Peter Hume work in the nonprofit radio station’s pulled pork sandwich and plate booth at the Maui Fair in 2019. Local nonprofits will be without funds raised at the annual event this year due the fair cancellation. — Mana‘o Radio photo

“I can assure you that the Maui Fair Board, its committee chairpersons and hundreds of volunteers have an even heightened level of anxiety and sadness this past month with not being able to be working toward opening day,” Chumbley said.

The cancellation of the event, which draws 92,000 people over four days annually, nixed opportunities for social engagement and “created a significant void for the many community nonprofits who rely on the annual fair for a substantial portion of their yearly fundraising opportunities,” he said.

“We lost a key fundraiser, but we do not miss the extreme labor and volunteer-intensive work over several weeks up to and including the fair,” said Ellen Loucks, chairwoman of the Maui Nui District, Aloha Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Scouts on Maui have been selling Pronto Pups, a dough coated hot dog on a stick, for at least 25 years. They normally net around $10,000 from fair sales, she said.

With the loss of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members last year, Loucks said Maui Scouts were planning to end their Pronto Pup run because of the loss of one-third of the 180 volunteers they need to man the fair booth.

Children and adults alike will be missing the E.K. Fernandez rides and games this year. The Maui Fair was supposed to begin Thursday but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This photo was taken in October 2018. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“We have contacted the fair committee regarding other ways we might be able to help in return for compensation,” Loucks said.

Without the fair, the Scouts had to find another fundraiser. It joined with the Aloha Council on a “Camp Card” with discounts at local businesses.

They were difficult to sell amid the pandemic, Loucks said. The Maui County Scouts made about one-third of what it would have netted from the fair. The silver lining was that the card fundraiser was “a lot less work,” she said.

The nonprofit Mana’o Radio, is losing out on about $7,000 to $8,000 in revenue by not being able to sell its barbecued pulled pork plate and sandwiches this year at the fair. While no longer one of its larger fundraisers, the fair does bring in needed funds for the independent community radio station funded by donations and powered by volunteers, said Michael Elam, the volunteer president of the board and development director of Mana’o Radio.

The station has turned to more fundraisers involving music, “but still $7,000 or $8,000, that’s a sizable chunk of money,” said Elam.

And donations are down this year. Large gatherings featuring crowds and music are on hold due to COVID-19 pandemic safety rules, putting Mana’o’s fundraisers on hiatus, he said. Regular donors, who are individuals and businesses, may be experiencing hardship and are not able to donate.

Despite the fundraising issues, Mana’o Radio will be able to sustain itself for the near future, Elam said. The station even made a donation to support free breakfasts for those in need at Mulligan’s on the Blue in Wailea; it was part of being a community station, Elam said.

The fair was more than fundraising for the station, Elam said. The long tradition of selling pork plates allowed the community to meet their deejays.

When asked if Mana’o Radio will be back at the fair, Elam responded: “Oh definitely, absolutely.”

Community showcase

The fair also offers community groups the opportunity to showcase their talents and products. Glenn Berce, one of the chairpersons for the Livestock and Poultry Exhibit, said that preparation for the fair by ranchers goes on throughout the year.

“Maui ranchers feed and groom their horses, bulls, cows and calves, lambs and donkeys, all through the year to show the products of their hard work with world class animals at the Maui Fair,” he said in an email. “Participants in youth and adult divisions begin gearing up in March and April to show off the chickens, bantams, rabbits, turkeys, ducks, pigeons, pheasants and gamecocks and dream of winning a trophy, gold buckle and ribbons at the Maui Fair.”

He said many participants expressed disappointment upon learning that the fair was canceled this year.

Mainland and international visitors “have marked their calendars to join the Maui community at the Livestock and Poultry Exhibit and Maui grown competition,” Berce added. 

Berce said he; his daughter, Gabrielle; and Chad Koga all “spend countless hours setting up to receive and feed the nearly 100 different small animals we all love to see” as co-chairpersons. Glenn Berce’s wife, Linda also helps.

It takes a lot of time to setup and monitor the exhibition but seeing the positive reactions of children and families to the animals make it all worth it.

More than 50 volunteers setup and breakdown the exhibit and clean up after the animals. They include families of both large and small ranches and private farms, as well as people who just love the exhibit and the fair, he said.

Another tradition, the Maui Fair Parade down Kaahumanu Avenue, will be lost this year. Ellie Leialoha, Maui office manager for the Boy Scouts of America, said those affiliated with Scouting were saddened by the cancellation of the parade and fair but understood the reasons behind the decisions.

As many as 600 Scouts annually march in the parade that begins at UH-Maui College and ends at the War Memorial Stadium parking lot.

Marching in the parade offers the opportunity for Scouts to plan, such as ensuring their uniforms are proper and unit flags are ready; learn the value of punctuality, being at a specific place at a specific time; and meet Scouts from other units.

Scouts are looking forward to being back next year, Leialoha said. 

E.K. Fernandez woes

Besides the array of food offerings, some only found at the fair, the rides and arcade are a favorite of young and old. Oahu-based E.K. Fernandez Shows, which brings the rides, games and some carnival food to the fair, has suffered deep financial hits without the Maui Fair and other fairs in the state. Scott Fernandez, president of E.K. Fernandez Shows Inc., was critical of governmental restrictions and actions preventing the company’s operation during the pandemic. 

“The financial impacts have been deep and will make for a long recovery period, if there is to be one,” he said in an email. “Although I am hopeful, the reality is, those making decisions for the entire population don’t experience the consequences of those decisions, evidenced by their lack of urgency, which has resulted in delays and missteps by this (state) administration.”

Fernandez did not answer specific questions about the Maui Fair, but spoke in general of the economic climate for the family business.

“Like all (nonessential) businesses in Hawaii, E.K. Fernandez Shows is waiting for decisive action on the part of our elected officials, before predicting the future. It appears we have a long wait,” Fernandez said.

The next fair

The Maui Fair Alliance has sufficient funds to start up the 98th fair, but “additional revenue must be realized” to cover all operating expenses, Chumbley said.

As a nonprofit, the Maui Fair Alliance is not focused on making a profit from each year’s event but has to generate adequate revenue to cover annual operating expenses and maintain a cash balance going forward to allow for sufficient funds to cover initial startup expenses, Chumbley said.

Without giving out numbers, Chumbley said there have been “limited unavoidable expenses” this year, which include continuing insurance coverage, storage fees and other administrative obligations. 

But the fair board has worked closely with its service providers and existing contract holders and has been successful in reaching agreements that avoid expenses and penalties because of this year’s cancellation, Chumbley said.

As for next year, Chumbley said “the fair board of directors are cautiously optimistic that there will be better and brighter days ahead.”

“At this point in time, we must wait to see what the situation will be as we move into the fair season of 2021,” he said. “We are optimistic there will be a 98th Maui Fair, and if we follow the traditional date cycle, it will be held on Thursday, Sept. 30th, to Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.”

Factors that could impact the fair next year and the years to come are whether public health rules, such as physical distancing and event gathering restrictions, remain, and economic conditions improve enough that the community and residents can support the fair. 

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.


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