Lyle Merrifield is the new president of the Cumberland Farmers Club, which announced June 10 that the coronavirus pandemic had forced it to cancel this year’s Cumberland Fair. Merrifield stands in front of the fairgrounds’ farm museum, of which he served several years as superintendent. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — “Always in September,” reads the Cumberland Fairgrounds sign along Blanchard Road, a nod to the timing each autumn of the celebration of agricultural heritage.

But 2020 will mark one of four times – including during the Spanish Flu pandemic a century ago – in the fair’s 150-plus-year history that it’s been forced to cancel, as have a bevy of events across Maine in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision this year to cancel the week-long festival – held the third week each September – was a tough one, according to Lyle Merrifield, who was recently elected president of the Cumberland Farmers Club. The safety and health of community members, and fair visitors, members, vendors and exhibitors, were critical factors to consider.

“Based on all information we have available today, it would not be possible to put on an event of this size and make the needed adjustments to adhere to current state of Maine guidelines and (Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention) recommendations without eliminating many events and attractions and significantly changing the look and feel of the Cumberland Fair,” Merrifield wrote in the June 10 cancellation announcement. “It would also be inconsiderate of the Cumberland Farmers Club to put the additional strain on the Town and its emergency services during this time.”

The number of people coming through the gate would have to be governed, which, in turn, would impact revenue, Merrifield said in an interview. Attendance for the full week is normally about 60,000, he said. Revenue gained from other summertime events on the fairgrounds, such as the “Ultimate Yard Sale” and dog shows, has also taken a hit, Merrifield said, noting that “just in summer revenues we’ve probably lost at least $30,000.”

At the same time, the club was reserved on investing much money into this year’s fair, given the pandemic, said Merrifield, formerly superintendent of the fairgrounds’ farm museum.

Farmers Club Treasurer Jeff Steinman declined to disclose how much revenue the fair brings, but thought the impact from the event’s absence could be at least $1.5 million. “It’s a loss of revenue for the local economy and the fair, the fair vendors,” he said.

The decision to cancel was “one of the hardest I’ve ever been involved with,” Steinman said.

The Cumberland-North Yarmouth Lions Club has relied on the fair as the organization’s largest fundraiser each year, according to treasurer Darla Hamlin. Through the sale of hamburgers and hot dogs, the Lions raised about $16,000 in gross revenue during fair week last year, she said.

“It obviously is going to have a major impact on our ability raise funds for this upcoming year,” Hamlin said.

Funds raised go toward various local causes: in the course of a year, more than $3,000 to the Cumberland Food Pantry and $9,000 in scholarships, for example, Hamlin said.

Although the fair is taking a break this year, the annual 4-H Club livestock show and auction is still on for this September, which keeps with the Farmers Club’s mission to promote agriculture and agricultural education, Merrifield said. Social distancing will be maintained, and attendance will be limited mainly to the youths who exhibit their animals and their families. The auction will be streamed online.

“It’s certainly one of the important elements” of the fair, said Merrifield, a maple syrup producer who lives in Gorham. “That’s the roots of this … organization.”

Even if the pandemic suddenly vanished, holding it still might not be the best idea, Merrifield said: “Are we going to get the people at the gate? Yep, you’re going to get a good-sized majority of them, but there are still going to be a lot of people that aren’t anxious to get out and be elbow to elbow.”

“In my mind, practicing social distancing and coming to the Cumberland Fair, those two just don’t go together,” he said. People come “to see (their) friends, family, spend time with people, shake hands. Even to hold a fair and have that go away, that would be a loss.”

If all goes well, the Cumberland Fair will be back Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 2021, and that “Always in September” slogan will ring true once again.

For now, the club is offering another slogan, with a hopeful promise for next year: “Twice the Fun in ’21.”

Comments are not available on this story.