The Great Minnesota Get-Together will be getting together once again.
Officials announced Friday that the Minnesota State Fair will return Aug. 26 through Labor Day, Sept. 6, after being forced to cancel in 2020 in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's a big step forward," said Jerry Hammer, the State Fair's general manager.
The fair's board of managers on Friday approved the dates and ticket prices, making the fair's return official with the sort of decisions it usually makes in January.
"COVID is still here," Hammer said. "Get your shot if you haven't. It's your golden ticket."
The State Fair won't require masks, he said, but visitors who aren't fully vaccinated will be "strongly encouraged" to wear them. No proof of vaccination will be required.
Organizers aren't anticipating setting any daily attendance limits. But they do expect a 20% drop in the number of visitors this year because they know some people are reluctant to return to any crowded spaces.
"That's just fine," Hammer said. "We'll be there when you're ready to come back" in 2022.
About 2.1 million people attended the State Fair in 2019, with as many as 245,000 people visiting in a single day.
This year's fair will feature most of the usual 300 food vendors and 800 merchandise vendors, rides and exhibits, minus a few COVID-affected events like the Giant Sing-Along. The CHS Miracle of Birth Center won't showcase live births but will have newborn baby animals.
For the first time, visitors will have to pass through metal detectors at the fairgrounds' entrances. The fair is boosting security this year, spending $4.3 million compared with $2.4 million in 2019 for the metal detectors, more cameras and other measures.
There hasn't been a spike in crime, Hammer said, but the fair is trying to be proactive. "They're pretty much expected everywhere," he said of metal detectors. "It's time we do that as well."
Organizers were forced to cancel the State Fair in 2020 for the first time in 74 years — that time, in 1946, was due to polio — and only the sixth time in its 167-year history. It cost the organization an estimated $16.2 million.
Hammer said the fair has recouped some losses with a drive-through food event last summer and fall that drew about 31,000 people, as well as a mini version of the fair over Memorial Day weekend last month that brought in about 70,000 people.
Some state fairs across the country aren't able to restart because they shut down operations during the pandemic. But Hammer said the Minnesota fair's 80 full-time staff members stayed on during the pandemic without any furloughs or layoffs so they could put on the events and maintain the fairgrounds, allowing the State Fair to kick back in this year.
"It's a big day," he said. "We were the first one out [during the COVID shutdown]. We're the last ones to come back."
Staff writer Pamela Miller contributed to this report.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141