Page 13 - BusinessWest July 20, 2020
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                Coping with a Lost Year
EASE Searches for Revenue Streams After 2020 Big E Is Canceled
s he talked with BusinessWest about Gene Cassidy
 the cancellation of this year’s Big E and
how the Eastern States Exposition (ESE) will respond to that huge loss of revenue, Gene Cassidy stopped and pointed to a picture at the opposite end of the company’s large con- ference room.
“That’s J. Loring Brooks, son of Joshua L. Brooks, founder of the Eastern States Exposi- tion,” said Cassidy, president and CEO of ESE. “He was the Big E’s chief development officer. When the Eastern States had rainy fairs or fairs where, for one reason or another, we didn’t make any money, he would get on the phone and fun- draise; when we had difficult times, he would find the funding to make ends meet.”
says the Eastern States Exposition is much like the farmers it helps promote; one lost season can spell disaster. Below: When
he was the
Big E’s chief development officer, J. Loring Brooks would get on the phone and raise money when the fair had bad years, usually
as a result of weather.
War II. It has put the Eastern States Exposition on precarious financial ground; put plans for rehab- bing and modernizing some of the buildings on the grounds, especially the obsolete Coliseum, on ice; left large questions marks about how the ESE is going to respond to the agricultural com- munity’s ongoing need for a platform; and even raised some doubts about the fate of the fair in 2021.
But while those at the Big E are certainly mov- ing full steam ahead with planning for next year’s fair, they must also contend with a massive hole in the budget — the Big E accounts for 85% of the yearly revenue, and much of the remaining 15% (all the many types of shows on the books after mid-March) has been wiped off the calen- dar as well.
Grounds for Change
That makes this year decidedly different, said Cassidy, noting that, in a typical year, his staff would be on what amounts to cruise control as it enters the final six or seven weeks of lead-up to the Big E. This year, these employees are search-
Big E
Continued on page 42
“We’re not unlike the farmer — if
he loses a season, he can go broke.
I cavalierly refer totheBigEasthe church bazaar for this nonprofit; if you don’t have your annual fundraiser, how can you execute on your mission?’”
J. Loring Brooks died in 1984, Cassidy went on, and it’s been a long time since the fair has needed to try to raise money in that fashion — and it would be difficult do it
that way now. “That’s not an aircraft carrier you can turn on a dime,” he noted, add- ing quickly that he did hire a development officer last year, and is looking into various strategies to perhaps do some fundraising.
Action of various kinds
— from a development cam- paign to borrowing to discov- ering new revenue streams
— is needed because 2020 has been the rainiest of years — figuratively, if not literally — in the fair’s 102-year history, and the assignment of making ends meet, as he put, is going to be a very stern challenge.
“We’re not unlike the farm- er — if he loses a season, he can go broke,” said Cassidy,
               who quickly went from that analogy to another one. “I cavalierly refer to the Big E as the church bazaar for this nonprofit; if you don’t have your annual fundraiser, how can you execute on your mission?”
The Big E, he noted — originally known as the Eastern States Industrial and Agricultural Exposi-
tion — was created to be that church bazaar, the method for raising money needed to support a mission of promoting agriculture.
Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic has done more than close the fair for the first time since World
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