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After a missed year, 'everybody's ready' for the State Fair
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After a missed year, 'everybody's ready' for the State Fair

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RALEIGH — After a year break due to the coronavirus pandemic, the State Fair returned on Thursday, opening to modest crowds, sunny skies and fairgoers happy to be back — including Earnest and Margaret Pope.

“We wanted to make the first day,” Earnest Pope said. “I’ve been coming about all my life, and I’m 74. I couldn’t wait for it to open up.”

The Popes visited the horse complex, the garden show and had hot dogs all in the first hours, then after a break planned to go see the farm equipment and livestock.

Margaret Pope said the fair needs more seating, as the two of them rested on a bench outside the Dorton Arena midday.

Earnest Pope said he is not worried about COVID-19 — or if people wear masks indoors. A Baptist minister, he said he leaves it “in God’s hands.”

A few hours before the gates opened to the public, Michelle Hartman of Hartman Farms in Walnut Cove was getting her family’s six heifers and steers ready for competition. Hartman, a sophomore at South Stokes High School, said the past year of the coronavirus pandemic “made school weird” but otherwise she wasn’t worried about the coronavirus. She planned to check out the rest of the activities during down time.

Chris Wrenn, who co-owns the food vendor Ragin’ Cajun with his wife and daughter, said they hope to see all the people they missed last year.

One of the new foods this year from Ragin’ Cajun, which is based in Fuquay-Varina, is Cheerwine candied apple hush puppies. They’ve taken some food safety measures like not having self-service sauces, and providing individually wrapped condiments. Most of his crew is vaccinated, he said.

“Without going down that rabbit hole, I think it’s an individual choice thing. And I think most of my crowd, they’re very responsible and they worry about their fellow man. I feel pretty good,” Wrenn said.

Wrenn said he missed the sights and sounds.

“I think everybody’s ready for it,” he said.

One of the first patrons on Thursday was Gov. Roy Cooper. Cooper took a brief tour with Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, and also stopped to visit the fair’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Vaccination workers said they were offering Pfizer boosters and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna first doses.

For fair food, Cooper, who was wearing Cheerwine socks, stopped to get a caramel apple. Troxler demurred on his favorite fare.

“Well, I love — see, I am political — and all these people out here want me to say that their food is my favorite. I love all the fair foods,” Troxler said.

Cooper, a Democrat who grew up working on a farm, said the fair supports the state’s No. 1 industry: agriculture.

“So many around the state have told us how much they look forward to this,” he said. “And the reason we’re able to do it is because of vaccines.”

Donna Parnell of Wilson sat on the curb in Kiddieland eating chicken with her 14-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. They arrived mid-afternoon. She said they “absolutely” missed the fair last year. They came on opening day to beat the crowds. Parnell said she was not worried about being infected with COVID-19.

“It’s nice to see everybody out and having a good time,” she said.

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