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Fair cancellation a blow for businesses

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Brad Mantela, owner of Dobber’s Pasties, bags fresh pasties in preparation for the lunch rush recently.

ESCANABA — With the U.P. State Fair — one of the area’s largest annual events — postponed to 2021, local businesses expect to see reduced sales later this summer.

“The economic implications of not holding the fair and other events on the fairgrounds are far reaching. Lodging properties, gas stations, restaurants, retail stores, and many other businesses in the region see increased visitor spending and promotional opportunities when events are held on one of the largest outdoor entertainment venues in the Upper Peninsula,” Delta County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vickie Micheau said.

At the Terrace Bay Hotel, owner Jarred Drown said the week of the U.P. State Fair is traditionally one of the busiest weeks of the year for his hotel and others.

“All the hotels kind of rely on that,” he said, noting the event serves as a final “kick” to the summer tourism season.

Because of this, Drown believed the postponement of the U.P. State Fair this year would have a significant impact on the Terrace Bay Hotel.

“All around, it’s going to be a big financial loss,” he said.

While he understood the need to stop the spread of COVID-19, Drown said he felt the decision to postpone the fair could have a negative economic effect on the U.P.

“We also care about the health of our business and the welfare of all of our employees who rely on us to provide jobs that support their families,” he said.

As of last Friday, Drown said a few fair vendors had canceled hotel rooms they had previously reserved at the Terrace Bay Hotel. However, in his experience, most visitors to the fair from out of the area book their hotel rooms two or three weeks in advance.

The Terrace Bay Hotel should still have a successful summer in 2020.

“July and August are the two strongest months for U.P. tourism,” Drown said.

The Comfort Suites in Escanaba normally sees occupancy rates of 100 percent every day of the fair.

“We’ve received several cancelations already,” Front Desk Manager Nikki Cook said.

Cook said the hotel was looking at a 30 percent decline in business for the week the fair was scheduled for. Despite this, tourists are expected to continue visiting the region this summer.

“It’s a good thing that the U.P. has other beautiful areas to bring people here,” she said.

At Sayklly’s Confectionery and Gifts, co-owner Jim Kirby said the fair has had a positive financial impact in the past.

“It’s always an uptick in the traffic flow that weekend,” he said.

He noted business at Sayklly’s normally increases by about 20 percent during the U.P. State Fair. That said, the effects of COVID-19 on the Easter season likely impacted sales more than the fair’s postponement will.

While summer business at Sayklly’s got off to a relatively slow start, and although its sales for the season are still slightly below average, Kirby said things have been improving recently.

“It just started picking up just a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

Many local restaurants have also experienced increased business during past fairs. Brad Mantela, owner of Dobber’s Pasties, said he had mixed emotions about the postponement of the event.

“It’s disappointing that they had to cancel it, but it’s understandable,” he said.

Dobber’s typically sees a spike in business the week before the U.P. State Fair, during the week of the fair and several days after the fair ends.

“It’s a good almost three weeks of increased business, there,” Mantela said.

Business at Dobber’s has grown in recent months compared to the numbers it saw this spring.

“Traffic has picked up substantially since April,” Mantela said.

With the fair canceled for 2020, Mantela has cut back on pasty production at Dobber’s this summer. Instead, he has shifted his focus to the holiday season and online sales.

At the Culver’s restaurant in Escanaba, General Manager Brian Chilcote said the week of the U.P. State Fair is normally one of his restaurant’s top five weeks of the year.

“Any time you take an event out of the community, you’re going to feel the financial impact as a local business,” he said.

Chilcote said the fair brought people from all over to Delta County.

“We actually look forward to it every year, because of the wide variety of people that come from so many different areas,” he said.

Still, he said the restaurant will move forward without the event this year.

“We strive to serve our community the best we can every day,” Chilcote said.

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