Salinas Valley Fairgrounds staff assist with online bids during the first-ever virtual Junior Livestock Auction in June. (Sean Roney/Staff)

The year 2020 was unlike any other, as news of the Covid-19 pandemic nearly dominated headlines each week. However, there were other stories — some virus-related, some not — that also defined the South Monterey County community last year. Here is a look at one of those stories.

Annual fair changes format, leadership

Events hosted at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City were among the many cancellations and postponements of activities in the South Monterey County area, but the largest to be scrapped in 2020 was the Salinas Valley Fair itself. 

Talks of canceling the 76th annual event — typically held in mid-May — began back in March when health restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic first occurred. Following a two-part special meeting on April 8 and 9, the Salinas Valley Fair Board of Directors voted unanimously to cancel the 2020 fair.

This was only the second time in the fair’s history that the event had been canceled since it first began in 1941 and was placed on a four-year hiatus from 1942 through 1945 during World War II.

“It is with a heavy heart and with the safety of our community in mind that we have come to this decision,” said Margaret Noroian, board president.

All hope was not lost, however, for the fair’s annual Junior Livestock Auction, which was restructured as an online sale of 4-H and FFA animal projects. The online auction took place June 20 and raised $725,000 from the sales of more than 600 animals.

Also changing its format this year was the annual crowning of Miss Salinas Valley Fair, which instead was announced via an online video rather than an in-person ceremony. Ashley Rosilez of Templeton was named 2020 Miss Salinas Valley Fair, receiving the crown while at home with her sisters.

As the pandemic progressed into September, the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds’ annual Fall Carnival was also canceled. But, in its place, the fairgrounds hosted several Pop-Up Fair Food Fun events for those in search of traditional carnival food. 

Social distancing and face masks were encouraged while customers ordered their fair snacks, including corndogs and funnel cakes, for takeout.

Leadership at the Salinas Valley Fair also shifted in 2020, following the Oct. 7 announcement that TJ Plew was no longer the CEO for the fairgrounds. The SVF Board of Directors decided not to renew Plew’s contract after they met to discuss her annual performance review in September. 

Plew, who had been the fair’s CEO for the past six years, said she was proud of not only her own personal accomplishments, but also the team’s achievements while she was there.

“We updated our Master Plan, implemented a strategic plan, developed policies to secure our financial reserves, invested in facility improvements, expanded our community outreach efforts, grew our digital brand, committed to emergency response training and facilitated thousands of non-fair events that benefited the local economy,” Plew said. “The fair’s staff, volunteers and leaders are dedicated to the organization’s mission and vision. I am confident they will continue to thrive and serve the Salinas Valley.”

Plans for the 77th Annual Salinas Valley Fair were revealed, as well. In November, the SVF Board announced that the 2021 event, set for May 12-16, would again include an online livestock show and auction due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“With many unknowns for 2021, the Salinas Valley Fair is planning a virtual livestock show and auction for our exhibitors,” the Board stated. “… Salinas Valley Fair continues to monitor state and local guidelines daily, maintaining close contact with city, state and health officials to make sure we can offer a safe and competitive event.”

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Ryan Cronk is the managing editor for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for South Monterey County and the surrounding communities.


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