For longtime workers, empty Colorado State Fair is ‘just not fair’


Anthony A. Mestas

Shari Giordano, a longtime staff member at the Colorado State Fair, sits in the empty, historic grandstands. This year's Fair is a far cry from years past because COVID-19 has forced organizers to rethink the popular community event and there is clearly a difference.

PUEBLO — It’s simply not fair.

When Sherry Giordano drove up to the gates at the Colorado State Fair last Thursday, she couldn’t help but cry.

There were more tears flowing than people inside because it wasn’t the same as it had been for the past 26 years she has worked there.

The reality of the coronavirus set in and Giordano saw how much this pandemic had made a difference.

“We love the fair. We love Pueblo. We love Colorado. But we really love the fair experience and that has changed drastically this year because of COVID-19,” Giordano said Tuesday as she sat in the shadow of the empty historic grandstands.

“You get sawdust in your blood and you can’t get it out,” she added.

Giordano, who has worked at the Fair’s box office since 1995, gets emotional when she sees the sharp contrast from years past.

On Sept. 1, 2019, there were 66,630 people at the Fair celebrating Fiesta Day.

On Tuesday morning – a year to the day – there were no more than 200 people behind the gates, which consisted mostly of staff and 4-H students getting ready for the annual livestock auction.

Aside from fairgoers, there were no vendors, no plastic toy stands, no wracks of knock-off Denver Broncos jerseys and no sales inside the Palace of Agriculture.

The midway looked like a small parking lot, absent of carnival games and rides, and most noticeably, people.

Wayne DeHerrera, who has worked in the fair entertainment venues since 1983, said he felt the same as Giordano.

“For me, it’s the entertainment. There’s no music, there are no sounds that we all are used to. But we do have the livestock events and that has to continue because that’s what the fair really is all about,” DeHerrera said, testing a microphone for the livestock auction in the Southwest Motors Events Center.

“On this part of the grounds, it seems like there’s a regular fair going on. But when you go a few steps toward the other side, it’s another story. It’s kind of sad not seeing all the action and excitement.”

DeHerrera said it’s something staff members at the fair just have to deal with.

“It’s out of our control,” he said.

DeHerrera, who usually books acts at the Coke Stage and amphitheater near the grandstands, said walking by the stages on the first day of the fair stirred up emotions.

“There’s usually so many people here. It’s weird. But we are all happy that we at least have something going on and it wasn’t canceled like fairs in other states have been,” he said.

Both DeHerrera and Giordano said when the pandemic first hit, they didn’t think it would last as long as it has.

“But here we are,” DeHerrera said.

The Colorado State Fair was one of the last staples in Pueblo to announce it would be modified. Other popular Steel City events have been canceled.

“We all had hope that we wouldn’t cancel. We are keeping our heads above water,” DeHerrera said.

Fair General Manager Scott Stoller said his main goal was to keep the spirit of the fair alive with livestock shows and even Fiesta Day activities scheduled for Sunday.

Stoller said the Drive Thru Fair Food operation has been a huge success thanks to loyal fairgoers.

“It has been way more popular than we have anticipated,” he said.

“Everybody has thanked us for doing this. They say it’s nice to have something.”

The drive-thru will continue Friday, Saturday and Sunday, opening at 11:30 each day.

“We love the fact that there are so many people here to support the drive-through and we are hearing so many heartwarming stories that people are here to buy food from every vendor, to support them as much as they can until things can get back to normal,” Giordano added.

“I keep saying that we want to keep the spirit of the state fair alive. It’s not just us keeping it alive, it’s also the community,” Stoller said.

The general manager said the workload feels like a usual fair, but he can’t help but long for the days when people filled the venue.

The Coke Stage at the Colorado State Fair sits empty Tuesday. A year to the day in 2019 there were thousands of people gathered inside the grounds for Fiesta Day.

“It’s really strange when you walk around the grounds and you’re over on the fair food side and it’s packed, as well as the livestock barn. And then you walk into another area of the grounds like, say, where the carnival is, and it’s a ghost town,” Stoller said.

“It may not be the one that we wanted it to be, but it’s the one that we can do this year,” Stoller said.

Giordano, a Pueblo native, said she is happy that the fair didn’t throw in the towel and cancel.

She said it is amazing how it all came together.

“But I am so looking forward to 2021,” she said.

Tickets for next’s year’s concerts will go on sale on Sept. 10.

“We can’t wait to start selling tickets and to have that feel that things are going to get back to normal again,” Giordano said.

She said her staff, many with 25 or more years at the Fair, misses the interaction with customers.

“This is a whole new experience. It’s COVID year 2020 and we are just trying to get through it together,” she said.

“It’s just not fair this year. It’s not the fair this year.”

Chieftain reporter Anthony A. Mestas can be reached by email at or Help support local journalism with a subscription to the Chieftain