Fair and Expo rides
Eaarl Warren Showgrounds officials cancel annual Fair & Expo due to COVID-19. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawl photo)

It’s the end of the ride—for now. 

One of Santa Barbara’s iconic events won’t happen this year, another cancellation caused by the coronavirus. 

“Earl Warren Showgrounds is deeply saddened to announce the cancellation of the 2020 Fair & Expo,” said Ben Sprague, president and CEO of the showgrounds. 

The Fair & Expo is traditionally the showgrounds’ hallmark event and its No. 1 fundraiser for the year. The fairgrounds has faced significant struggles in recent years and board members were looking to the five-day event as a way to drive the bulk of the facility’s revenue. This would have been the 31st year of the event, which includes rides, carnival games—and lots of cotton candy. 

The event is usually toward the end of April, but the shelter-in-place order is keeping people in their homes and away from large crowds, as health care officials look to get a handle on the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“There’s no question that it is going to have a financial effect on our operations moving forward,” board President Mike Medel said. “It is our largest financial item that produces the most money. The revenue generated from the fair carries us for seven or eight months of the year.”

For the past two years, the showgrounds has taken out a bridge loan to get to the fair, and then the fair revenue makes the showgrounds whole. Medel said he hopes insurance will cover most or all of the cost of canceling the event.

“If the insurance only covers 50 percent, that’s really bad news for us,” Medel said. 

The state-owned showgrounds could also serve as an emergency management center if needed. 

“The preservation of the health and safety of our community is our top priority and we think it best to prepare for the use of our showgrounds for emergency management should the need arise,” Sprague said. 

Sprague said there’s hope for a big event in the fall. 

“Although we are heartbroken to cancel our fair, we are turning our eyes to our second annual fall festival,” Sprague said. 

The Haunt & Harvest Festival is scheduled for Oct. 23-25 and features carnival rides, live bands, and three haunted houses, among other attractions. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.