Virus fears lead around 150 vendors to skip Minnesota State Fair

Isaac Schultz flips the dining hall's bananas foster French toast.
Isaac Schultz flips the Hamline Church Dining Hall's signature bananas foster French toast at the Minnesota State Fair in 2018. The oldest dining concession stand at the fair said it will only offer ice cream through a window this year.
Tim Nelson | MPR News 2018

Around 150 vendors will be missing when the Minnesota State Fair returns this week from a one-year layoff due to the pandemic.

Many pulled out due to COVID-19 fears, staffing shortages and product-supply chain issues. That’s double the number of vendors that usually drop out compared with other recent years, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

“Yes, we did lose 150 vendors, but that’s over the past year,” fair spokeswoman Danielle Dullinger said, adding that only one was a food vendor. “I know a lot of state agencies are not able to come this year.”

Those agencies include the Office of Higher Education, Department of Education and the Department of Health. The Department of Natural Resources won't open its building, but outdoor activities, including the popular fish pond, raptor demonstrations and performances on the outdoor stage, are still planned.

On the bright side, Dullinger said, the fair will be adding 61 new vendors to the mix when it returns Thursday.

Last week, fair officials announced that they would urge, but not require fairgoers to wear masks and be vaccinated before entering. The decision ultimately did cause seven vendors to cancel, Dullinger said.

One of those was Education Minnesota, which said Friday that it will pull out this year due to “health and safety concerns.” The teachers union usually has a booth in the Education Building with teachers, school support staff and higher education faculty volunteering and making personalized photo calendars for fairgoers.

“Our leadership decided we cannot in good conscience ask more than 150 educator-volunteers to work shifts at our photo calendar booth in unsafe conditions knowing that most of them will return to their classrooms in a few days,” the union said in a Facebook post. “The risk to themselves and their students was just too high.”

On Monday, the band Low Cut Connie pulled out of Saturday’s grandstand concert, citing the lack of a mask or vaccine mandate.

And the Hamline Church Dining Hall, the oldest dining concession stand at the fair, said Monday it won't offer indoor dining, only ice cream from its sidewalk-facing window. The hall, in its 124th year, is one of only two church dining halls still in operation at the fair.

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