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Closings, Cancellations and Delays

The popular Wild Bill Days in Deadwood was cancelled due to concerns over COVID-19 spread.
The popular Wild Bill Days in Deadwood was cancelled due to concerns over COVID-19 spread.

Cancellations cost money, social connections

Bart Pfankuch & Nick Lowrey, SD News Watch - June 5, 2020

PIERRE, SD - The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of dozens of fairs, festivals and other events in South Dakota in 2020 that typically provide a significant revenue boost and foster community cohesiveness in cities and counties across the state.

As of early June, nearly four dozen community events, many of them multi- day affairs, were cancelled and not rescheduled, according to the state Department of Tourism. Those cancellations are in addition to the temporary or permanent closure of dozens more businesses and attractions that lure visitors and spending to the state each year.

According to a compilation of cancellations and closures on the tourism department website, at least 15 events have been cancelled in the western region, 14 in the southeast, nine in the northeast and six in the center of the state. Several other events have been postponed and may resurface later in the summer or fall.

Millions of dollars in income for businesses and individuals will be lost, and sales-tax revenues that fund operations of cities, counties and the state will be reduced as even as events are cancelled over fears of spreading the potentially deadly coronavirus.

The state does not break out financial, tax or employment data on the impact of community events, festivals, rodeos and fairs, but Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen said the cancellation of dozens of events will deprive many businesses and communities, especially in remote rural regions, a critical source of income and tax revenues that may be impossible to replicate.

“Especially for our small towns in rural South Dakota, we know how important those events are,” Hagen said. “That event, that fair, that rodeo or that festival really becomes a rallying point and big source of revenue for the community and folks that live there.”

The cancellations include time-honored, community-defining events across the state, such as Yankton Riverboat Days, the Siouxland Renaissance Festival in Sioux Falls, Lake Andes Fish Days, Oahe Days in Pierre, Wild Bill Days in Deadwood, the Hills Alive Christian music festival in Rapid City, the Fall River County Fair in Edgemont and the Festival in the Park in Spearfish.

Tourism is big business in South Dakota and a major revenue source for communities across the state, especially during local events, Hagen said. According to state data, 14.5 million people visited the state in 2019  spending $4.1 billion and generating $308 million in state and local taxes and supporting more than 55,000 jobs.

Hagen said revenue in the tourism industry in South Dakota is estimated to be down by about 70% so far this year, with some hotels reporting occupancy rates of only 15% to 30%, far below normal. The festival cancellations are adding to the industry woes.

A 2012 report by the national Americans for the Arts organization found that non-profit art and cultural events attracted an estimated 3.3 million people and generated almost $97 million in spending in South Dakota in 2010. The study included a survey of 3,300 South Dakota event attendees who reported that in addition to any admission costs, they spent an average of $17.20 per person.

Based on the study, the Czech Days festival in Tabor, which attracts up to 10,000 visitors each June, could generate up to $172,000 in new local spending in the town of 408 people.

The decision to cancel the events is sometimes heartbreaking for organizers who have spent most of the year preparing. The loss of the 2020 events also cuts off a funding stream that pays for other community programs and activities.

Scrapping the June 6 Fort Sisseton Historical Festival was one of the toughest decisions park manager Ali Tronsfeldt has ever made. “It just broke my heart,” Tronsfeldt said. “ I know people have come for 40- some years, they bring their kids or grandkids and it's a family tradition for thousands of people.”

The cancellations are sure to reduce morale in communities that are already suffering from the isolation and upheaval of normal life amid the pandemic. “It does take an emotional toll on individuals and the communities as a whole,” Hagen said. “These are events that people plan their whole summers around, they become a reunion for families, and there’s only so much you can do virtually to make up for that.”

As far as the biggest event in South Dakota each year — the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally — Hagen said the state is working with officials in Sturgis to gather data and medical information to make the best possible decision about whether to host the rally, which is scheduled for Aug. 7-16. An announcement on the status of the official event will be made on or around June 16, Hagen said.

The rally drew an estimated 490,000 people to the Black Hills for the 10-day event in 2019, and saw record attendance of 740,000 people at he 75th rally in 2015. The overall economic impact to the state in 2019 was estimated at $720 million.

Hagen said he anticipates that a large number of bikers and vendors will come to Sturgis in August even if the 80th rally is officially cancelled.

The Department of Agriculture said the state fair in Huron remained scheduled for Sept. 3-7, but will likely include changes to address risks from COVID-19. The release did not specify what fair planners may change to follow guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that warn that gatherings of more than 250 people significantly increase the risk of disease transmission.

More than 205,000 people attended the 2019 state fair and generated sales tax collections or more than $224,000.

The loss of Czech Days in Tabor for 2020 was a hard pill for area residents to swallow. The event has been held for more than 70 years and had been scheduled for June 18-20. “I’ve got family that live five to six hours away, now they’ve got kids of their own and it’s sad that they won’t get to be a part of the festival this year,” said Laverne Schieffer, chairman of the town council.

Schieffer is also a member of the town’s volunteer fire department. Each year, the department raises a substantial portion of its annual budget selling food during Czech Days, he said. Many of the cultural and social institutions in Tabor benefit from Czech Days in one form or another, said Mark Povondra, an event organizer. In addition to the fire department, Tabor’s American Legion Post 183, the St. Wenceslaus Alter Society and Tabor’s Czech Heritage Society all raise money selling foodand beverages.

“It is going to have an impact throughout the year,” Pavondra said.

A sometimes tense debate occurred among the committee members who run the annual Hot Springs Main Street Arts & Crafts Festival, said Gerald Collogan, who has helped organize the event for the past 30 years. The event typically attracts 50 to 60 vendors and 3,000 to 4,000 patrons over the last weekend in June, Collogan said.

The committee considered moving the event to later in the summer, but eventually decided that concerns over the potential for spreading the coronavirus outweighed the benefits. “It came down to safety. We didn’t want to be the factor that would possibly spread the virus if anybody was infected and walked through the festival,” he said.

Hagen said the state is urging all tourism and event providers to place a high priority on following guidance from the CDC to maintain social-distancing guidelines and keep group sizes as low as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“If we don’t provide a safe environment when they get here, we won’t have any tourism,” Hagen said. “Our industry is taking this very, very seriously and putting in place those protocols.”


Phone number: 605-347-4455
E-mail: [email protected]
Address: 1612 Junction Avenue, Suite #1
Sturgis, SD 57785