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COVID cancels Maui Fair for second straight year

Organizers concerned that popular event could spur outbreak

Manu Plunkett, 4, points to his mom while enjoying the Helicopters ride with brother, Kamauliola Plunkett, 6, at the 97th Maui Fair in October 2019. Already canceled once due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 98th Maui Fair has been postponed for a second year in a row as organizers expressed concerns over a potential outbreak at the popular event, which draws about 90,000 people a year. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Worried over the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak even as more people get the vaccine, organizers announced that the 98th Maui Fair will be canceled for a second year in a row and rescheduled for 2022.

“Even with the vaccine, it’s just, how do you socially distance 35,000 people on a Saturday night?” Maui Fair Alliance President Avery Chumbley said Wednesday. “How do you enjoy a ride when you’re screaming and yelling and you’re inches away from the person next to you, who in some cases, you don’t know who it is? It was just too much public health risk.”

The Maui Fair Alliance consulted with Gov. David Ige, the state Department of Health and Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino on the restrictions for holding the fair, according to a news release.

“The protocols, including limiting attendance, requiring social distancing, reducing lines, providing physical spacing guides and increasing cleaning and sanitation, made it clear that the prudent action would be to cancel the Maui Fair to protect the health and safety of attendees, volunteers, vendors, staff and entertainers,” the organization said.

Chumbley said the fair doesn’t have the staffing or volunteers to do the increased cleaning that would be required. Because of the pandemic, he also wasn’t sure they’d be able to access the workline crew of Maui Community Correctional Center inmates who usually do the setup and breakdown.

The Maui Fair’s “Joy Zone” is awash in pulsing lights and music, screams and laughter in 2018

It’s only the sixth time in 105 years that the fair has been canceled — once during World War I, three times during World War II and now two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Chumbley, who’s been involved in the fair since 1985 and had planned to stick around until the event’s 100th landmark event.

“Now the question becomes, when will the 100th fair be?” Chumbley said.

The cancellation of the fair, which draws about 90,000 people annually, deals a blow to the schools, clubs and nonprofits who sell food and crafts at the event. Chumbley estimated that the fair brings in about 45 food vendors, and about 85 commercial and nonprofit exhibits in the craft tent. The fair also contracts about a dozen nonprofits to provide services.

“I’m sure it’s pretty devastating to all the community organizations, the food vendors, the exhibitors, the nonprofits,” Chumbley said. “This will be two years in a row for many of them whose single most important and major source of revenue is the Maui Fair. And unfortunately this will be two years consecutively that they haven’t had that revenue. I think some of the county grants and state and federal PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) helped some, but the smaller ones that are more dependent on events and activities — I’m sure they’re getting crushed.”

It will also cost the fair alliance itself — even when the organization is not putting on an event, it still has to pay for liability insurance, contracts for storage and other expenses.

Kahana Canoe Club members Krystle Park (foreground) and Misty Branco stir woks of smoked meat at the Maui Fair in 2018.

“It’s going to cost the board tens of thousands of dollars to not have a fair,” Chumbley said.

Jack Breen, founder of Maui Rugby, said the fair is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year and helps send teams to tournaments on the Mainland — a major opportunity for the players to be noticed by college coaches.

“It’s devastating for the organizations that do their fundraising there,” Breen said of the fair’s cancellation. “Our kids are playing in Utah and that would’ve been a big part of raising the money.”

Maui Rugby’s girls team took second in the country last year, while the boys finished third. The teams were angling for the top spot this year but will “just have to find another way,” relying on car washes, bake sales and a recycling program. Fundraising has been even more difficult over the past year with a lot of local businesses that usually contribute also hurting financially. Missing out on the fair proceeds means that Maui Rugby will likely be unable to take younger players, though Breen said they’ll do “everything we can” to get the seniors to the tournaments.

He’s holding on to hope that fair organizers will reconsider if COVID-19 conditions improve.

“October’s a long way off, and hopefully the decline of COVID will continue and they can make another consideration,” he said. “The fair’s a wonderful thing. Think of all the opportunities for kids to go and enjoy themselves . . . things they cannot do on Maui.”

Chumbley, however, said that it takes months to put the fair together, and that uncertainty over the pandemic poses too great a risk.

“It takes us months of time to do the setup and months of commitment in getting all the contracts lined up and obligations and getting people committed that they’re going to be there and be a part of it,” he said. “Just think, if we’re into August or September, and then all of a sudden we’ve got another wave and another outbreak and you just have to cancel everything. So from a financial risk standpoint, that’s huge.

“We tried to wait as long as we could, but knowing that we’d have to make commitments for contracts and timing, we just had to make a decision.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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