As the warmer weather brings on more social events and activities, summer is one of the busiest times of the year in Ohio. All over the state, small towns and big cities alike spend time celebrating the season with outdoor activities, such as fairs, festivals, concerts and beach outings on Lake Erie. However, due to the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic, this summer looks very different than most Ohioans could have ever imagined.
Not only has the pandemic been a letdown to the people who spend all year looking forward to these popular annual events, but it’s an even bigger blow to the small businesses that are essential to making these events work every year.
The Fair Publishing House, a family-owned commercial printer in Norwalk, Ohio, is responsible for creating just about every necessity to run a fair. They create and sell everything from tickets and banners to ribbons and pageant crowns. The Fair Publishing House alone supplies these essential items to around 2,000 events all across the nation, including county and state fairs, horse shows and more.
With the majority of county fairs and outdoor festivals being canceled, their business has been hurting over what is normally their busiest time of year, owner Charlie Doyle said. In his 29 years at the company he never thought they would be up against something as difficult and unpredictable as COVID-19.
“From my business standpoint it is frustrating to come in and not know what the day is going to hold,” Doyle said.
There have been many difficult hurdles to get over as a small business battling the pandemic. Not only have the event cancelations due to the coronavirus been a financial burden, but an emotional one as well. The Fair Publishing House has had to make many in-the-moment adjustments in order to keep the business running as smoothly as possible.
“COVID-19 has been a great financial burden. It’s hard to project the amount of money that will be coming in, when people aren’t placing the same orders they normally would. We’re used to a rush in the summer as May to September is usually our busiest time of year, but we’re just not having the huge influx we normally would due to the pandemic,” Doyle said.
Apart from the financial strife, one priority has always remained the same for Doyle and The Fair Publishing House: making sure employees and customers are supported no matter what the circumstance. After being in business for 100 years and having some current employees in the company for more than forty years, a sense of family and loyalty is not something that Doyle takes lightly.
“More than anything you have to make sure that your employees are taken care of, that’s the crux of the whole thing,” Doyle explained. “The people in this industry are some of the most wonderful you could ever meet.”
Although Doyle was able to continue to pay his employees during the weeks of the shutdown and has been able to continue business now that restrictions are being lifted, employees have still had to adapt to changes in the new work environment.
In order to save money and keep the business running as close to normal as possible, the company had to cut some employee’s hours from a five day 40 hour week down to under 20 hours a week.
“As an established business it has been hard to adapt, but we’ve been able to get through this situation by cutting days of the week. I put a lot of thought into this decision, but it’s an ongoing struggle,” he said.
But a small handful of county fairs have decided to move forward with their festivities and have been turning to The Fair Publishing House for everything they need to get the events up and running. Even though the uncertainty of COVID-19 has made it difficult to make concrete event plans, this hasn’t posed a problem for the company.
“We can definitely take orders with short notice. If it so happens that we get an influx of orders, we’ll get everything out as soon as possible. Even when things are good in society, we’ve never turned anyone away,” Doyle said.
As the effects of COVID-19 continue, The Fair Publishing House is trying to adapt as best they can to the ever-changing situation while staying true to the company's core values. One of the company’s biggest priorities is making sure they are able to maintain a personal touch with the customer.
“I think it’s important to have that connection because it seems like that has become so lost in society. People don’t sit back and think about what’s really important anymore. in some ways I think COVID-19 has made people stop and realize how important the people in their lives are,” Doyle said.