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Big E Canceled For 2020, Three Months Before A Planned Opening Day

The Big E, a 104-year-old New England agricultural fair, is canceled for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Courtesy Eastern States Exposition
The Big E, a 104-year-old New England agricultural fair, is canceled for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Big E — the giant annual agricultural fair in West Springfield, Massachusetts — is canceled this year, Eastern States Exposition officials announced Monday. In recent years, more than a million people have come to the area during the fair's two-week run. 

In recent weeks, fair and city officials went back and forth over how the large-scale event with vendors and visitors from around New England could take place. 

West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt and other municipal and state officials had expressed serious concerns about the standard of COVID-19 guidelines being developed for the fairgrounds.

Still, knowing that under Massachusetts guidelines, fairs and other events like the Boston Marathon won't be allowed until a vaccine is available, Reichelt said he waited to hear from The Big E. 

“In fairness to a business in town that wants to reopen and has an economic value,” Reichelt said, “we wanted to understand — maybe we were missing something. What could they do that would keep everyone safe?” 

While fair officials did create a "COVID Resiliency" team, the coronavirus is still present in New England. In other regions of the country, the number of people with the virus is now surging.

This week, Reichelt said it was clear to him and town officials they could not comfortably issue the required permits for The Big E to open. 

Reichelt said Monday he was invited to a planning meeting with Eugene Cassidy, the CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, and they had a "candid conversation."

Reichelt said he told Cassidy that for public health and safety reasons, the city couldn’t allow the fair to take place. 

In a https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8lz99A41gg" target="_blank">video on The Big E's website, Cassidy announced the fair's cancellation. He said the decision was difficult and complex, but it was the right thing to do.


"There is precedent in the Exposition’s 104-year history when the Fair was put on hold during WWI and for five years during WWII," Cassidy wrote in a statement. "We’ve made it through difficult times before... the Flood of 1936… the Hurricane of 1938 and, 9-11, and together we’ll get through these unprecedented times as well."

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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