Entertainment

Big E back after COVID hiatus

COVID-19 safety precautions are still in place, including signs throughout the fairgrounds encouraging unvaccinated people to mask up.

In this 2019 file photo, crowds wander among the vendors at the Big E in West Springfield.

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The largest fair in New England is back after a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19. 

The Big E is held on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition, a nonprofit organization in West Springfield. The fair is held every fall starting mid-September, but for the first time in decades, the event was canceled in 2020. 

“My fear when we had to cancel the fair was how are we going to survive financially without any income? 2020 was hopefully the worst year we’ll see in our history,” said Gene Cassidy, president and chief executive officer of the Eastern States Exposition. 

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Big E leaders announced in June that the fair was making a comeback this year, and patrons can visit from Sept. 17 through Oct. 3. 

The Big E is the fifth largest fair in the United States, Cassidy said. Counting employees, about 1.6 million people make their way through the gates. 

“Everybody can gather and enjoy their time together,” Cassidy said. “It’s long overdue and we as a country can get back on track.” 

One of the main attractions at the Big E is the series of concerts including Machine Gun Kelly opening night, Pat Benatar, Styx, Flo Rida, and the Goo Goo Dolls. 

Cassidy’s favorite part is all of the fair food options. From baked potatoes to fried Oreos to a signature Big E Cream Puff, there’s a snack for everyone. 

COVID-19 safety precautions are still in place, including signs throughout the fairgrounds encouraging unvaccinated people to mask up. But if case numbers trend upwards leading to opening day, officials will consider an indoor mask mandate. 

“I think we would wait until as late as we can,” Cassidy said. “We’re ready to pivot if we have to require indoor masking.” 

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The Big E was inaugurated in 1917. It closed down during both World Wars, but the organization never lost income as war officials rented the facility during those times. When the fair closed last year, Cassidy said it was difficult. 

The number of food and commercial vendors decreased from about 135 to 115, and 320 to 300, respectively. 

“A lot of people depend on us,” Cassidy said. “We drive nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars worth of economic output on the fairgrounds.”

Dominic Pompi owns Memo’s Restaurant across the street from the fairgrounds. He said he’s looking forward to seeing some of the regular fairgoers and vendors who stop in for breakfast before heading to the Big E. 

“It’s nice (that) things are getting back to somewhat normal,” Pompi said. “It’s good to see things heading in the right direction again.”

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