Minnesota State Fair during a pandemic: Does it feel any different?

Our food writer Haley Nelson hit the fair on the first day.
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As a Minnesota State Fair Super Fan, I was eager to get back after a year off. But like so many people, I wondered: What will it be like? Will it feel different? Will it be the same level of fun?

And after visiting on Day One, I can say this: It felt pretty normal.

Were there fewer people? Don’t get me wrong: The Fair was crowded. But it wasn’t quite as crowded as it usually is, although the projected rain may have played some part in that.

This was most noticeable in places where you’re used to waiting in line or standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

The usually crowded Food Building was pretty quiet when I visited in the morning. There was virtually no line to The Mouth Trap Cheese Curds stand – perhaps the most famous queue at the State Fair.

My guess would be that there were about 25% fewer people at the fair than usual.

Were people wearing masks? Not a lot. Mask usage increased indoors, but outdoors very few people wore them. Even though there were a lot of people there, it didn’t seem impossible to spread out.

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What else changed? I talked to a few vendors who expressed dealing with the same challenge: Staffing shortages. Even the State Fair isn’t immune to this economic phenomenon.

A couple of food vendors said it was more difficult to plan this year in terms of what quantity of food to order.

Related: The 2021 Minnesota State Fair – what you need to know

In an average year, between 50 and 100 vendors and exhibitors don’t return from the previous year.

This year, that number increased, with notable organizations like WCCO and Education Minnesota, and even some bands pulling out.

Masked workers serve visitors at Brim.

Masked workers serve visitors at Brim.

Iowa and Wisconsin state fairs saw a slight drop in attendance this year, but it’s impossible to know to what extent Minnesota will show up. After all, we have the largest state fair in the U.S. based on average daily attendance (Texas has us beat by total average attendance, but theirs runs longer).

Was it fun? Absolutely. The temps were cool, the crowds were lighter, and it genuinely felt like a long - overdue Minnesota get-together.

One thing is for sure: It may not be 100% back to normal – but it was good to be back.

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