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Napa Valley Expo: What's a fairgrounds without a fair?
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Napa Valley Expo: What's a fairgrounds without a fair?

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This is normally the week of the Napa Town & Country Fair when thrill rides roar, corn dogs are downed by the thousands, people hawk knives and miracle cleaners and sheep and goats await their fates.

But not this year. COVID-19 scrubbed Napa Valley Expo of all that, leaving behind a 32-acre fairgrounds where fun food, karaoke contests, cover bands and clattering rides are non-existent.

The Expo would have expected to have hosted more than 40,000 fairgoers over five days starting Wednesday. On a normal Monday at the start of fair week, the place would normally be hopping with game setups, carnival rides being rolled into place and judges awarding blue ribbons.

Not now. Not during COVID-19.

‘What’s going on?,’ a visitor on Monday morning asked Joe Anderson, the Expo’s CEO who just retired and is now working as a part-time consultant.

“A whole lot of nothing,” Anderson replied.

Which wasn’t exactly true. Anderson will be working long hours putting the finishing touches on this week’s Junior Livestock Auction, now an online event with nary a moo emanating from the livestock area.

But in terms of actual physical activities on the Expo grounds, there wasn’t much to see.

A big area near Third Street is now devoted to COVID-19 testing of locals who arrive in their cars, wind their way toward the “hot zone,” or the testing area, roll down a window and get swabbed.

Only this wasn’t a testing day, Anderson said.

Two Expo buildings — Chardonnay and the Bingo Hall — sit empty, ready to transform into hospital overflow if COVID-19 were to overwhelm local hospitals.

Another building, Riesling Hall, sits behind a chain-link fence. It’s the winter homeless shelter, now a year-around shelter, for people who otherwise might have to congregate in homeless encampments.

Only three shelter residents tested positive for COVID-19 and the place had to be emptied. It should refill soon, Anderson said.

So then, what is happening at the Expo this week?

Napa Fermentation Supplies operates a store near Third Street. Business appeared to be booming Monday as the grape harvest approaches.

And the Expo’s RV park was doing good business, operating 70%-75% of capacity most weeks, Anderson said.

Because there is no fair this year and BottleRock was canceled as were dozens of crab feeds and quinceaneras, the Expo’s revenue this year is expected to shrink from about $2.2 million to a third of a million dollars, he said.

“We haven’t done an event since February, the last crab feed,” Anderson said.

“It will be interesting to see when events, concerts, gatherings, big gatherings can start up again,” Anderson said. “I think things will change for many years to come.”

Social distancing and enhanced sanitation protocols are may be with us for a long time, Anderson said.

Will there be a fair in 2021? A coronavirus vaccine may be on the way, he said. There’s hope.

Anderson said it’s tough to not put on a community fair and watch people have a good time. That’s been a big part of his professional life.

His favorite part, however, is a private time after the gates close for the night. “It’s 12:30 in the morning,” he said,”when the city goes to sleep, but the lights are still on and we’re working on cleanup.”

He’s putting the fair to bed for the night. Another day’s excitement awaits.

Watch Now: Napa County coronavirus testing site volunteers discuss their work.

You can reach City Editor Kevin Courtney at kcourtney@napanews.com or at 707-256-2217.

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City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.

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