Every fall, western New England looks forward to one of the area’s most anticipated fairs: The Eastern States Exposition, better known as The Big E.
Last year, for the first time since World War II the fair, like many other events, was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Eugene Cassidy, President and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, to hear how difficult it was to cancel the 2020 far, how the exposition has managed to reinvent itself during this past year, and what the future holds for the Big E.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Every fall, this region looks forward to one of the area’s most anticipated fairs, the Eastern States Exposition, better known as the Big E.
However, last year, for the first time since World War Two, the fair, like many other events, was canceled due to the pandemic.
I spoke with Eugene Cassidy, President and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, to hear how difficult it was to come to that decision, how the exposition has managed to reinvent itself during the past year, and what the future holds for the Big E.
Eugene Cassidy, President & CEO of the Eastern States Exposition: It had been seventy five years since we canceled the last time. But during the war effort, everybody was all hands on deck, and so people understood that. Here, you know, we didn’t fully understand what the pandemic was going to mean for the world, really.
What most people probably don’t realize is the impact, the economic impact of the Eastern States Exposition, is over six hundred and eighty one million dollars and there’s a lot of livelihoods at stake. So, you know, while there’s the livelihoods of the few of us at work here, in a normal time, we only have about 30 full time employees, although we’re down quite a bit from that now.
But there’s, you know, there’s thousands of people that are that are in that six hundred and eighty one million dollars. So, that complicated the cancellation because we knew that people needed us in order for them to make ends meet.
And it was it was a very difficult decision to make, while at the same time we were aware that if we had a fair, we could have been putting people in harm’s way and health risk as well.
Zydalis Bauer: The Exposition host over one hundred events throughout the year that range from trade shows to agricultural and livestock competitions and entertainment events, all which had been affected by this pandemic.
So, how have you managed to reinvent yourselves in order to stay afloat during these difficult times?
Eugene Cassidy: You know, we’re used to having events on very large scales. We deal with a large volume of people.
But it’s also important for us to kind of keep the name Eastern States Exposition in the spotlight. And so we did that by having a food drive through. We opened recently with our concessions partner, the West Springfield Drive-in for in movies, very successful.
We had the Victory Cheese Garden here, the cheese market, which is sort of a throwback to the Second World War days. We needed to provide a platform for New England agriculture to be able to distribute their product.
A lot of this stuff generated no income to the Eastern States, but it kept us in the public eye. And getting through the pandemic has been extraordinarily difficult. And if if we failed, filling that void of six hundred eighty one million dollars for our region, I’m not sure anybody could ever back fill that void.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, this April, it was announced that the Big E would become a Mass vaccination site, which is second in the region after the site at the Eastfield, MA in Springfield.
Why were the fairgrounds chosen as Mass vaccination site, and how does it feel to offer this service to the residents?
Eugene Cassidy: I would have liked to have had the vaccination site opened in January, but we were unable to convince the state that this was the best place for it, in spite of the fact that we were the second largest coronavirus testing site. So, you know, it feels good to be able to deliver the the solution.
And, you know, if it weren’t for Mayor Reichelt, the mayor of West Springfield, Mayor Sapelle from Agawam, Mayor Humason from Westfield, those three gentlemen there, Mayor Will Reichelt, chief among them, played a powerful role for this region. And the region is that while a debt of gratitude for sure.
Zydalis Bauer: The Big E has been part of this region for over a century, and the fair is one of the most popular events that we see in this region. In 2019, when the fair was last held, it’s all over one point six million visitors.
With Massachusetts entering phase four of its reopening and loosening restrictions. Are you hopeful that the fair can make a comeback this year?
Eugene Cassidy: We are very optimistic. The governor has indicated that on August 1st, the mandate should be removed. We know that we’re in a very big, public environment, mass-gathering space. Some people are never going to return to mass gatherings, and and that’s up to their discretion, of course.
But we’d like to see the American way of life be celebrated again at the Big E, to be sure.