Mason becomes a small hub of tourism in mid-Michigan during August thanks to events such as the Sundried Music Festival and the Ingham County Fair. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Mason officials to pivot away from these iconic annual events.
“The safety of the residents of Mason is the most important thing for me in all of this,” said Mason Mayor Pro Tem Marlon Brown. “We do not want to open Mason up to become a hub of travel in Michigan with the disease spreading so rapidly.”
Mason is the county seat for Ingham County, meaning it must host the county’s fair year in and year out. The fair Mason’s largest draw to outsiders throughout the year, as they can visit and see animals up for auction as well as ride on small amusement park rides and eat greasy food. Each year, over 40,000 people come to Mason for the county fair according to the Ingham County Fair Commission.
“It hurts for Mason to have to cancel the commercial side of the fair, because it is important to a lot of people in Mason,” said Brown. The farmers rely on it, and lots of residents in Mason look forward to the fair all year,”
“The fair is a good time for us because there are just so many people in Mason so they leave the fair and they trickle downtown to see what downtown Mason is really all about,” said Shawn Sodman, owner of Daily Scoop ice cream store in downtown Mason. The fair is located under a mile from downtown Mason and the businesses benefit as a result.
Mike Yanz, the Ingham County Fair Comissioner, believes that the reduction of the fair can have massive implications for Mason’s economy. “If you think about it, all of the people that come to Mason for the fair won’t be here in August, The economy that comes from that is huge and without that some places could hurt,” said Yanz.
The Ingham County Fair will take place in the first week of August, with only limited livestock sales. The only people that can sell livestock at the fair this year are students in Ingham county schools that participate in agricultural programs such as 4H or FFA, according to Yanz.
Sodman said the businesses in downtown Mason rely heavily on the month of August in general because of the events in town, and the cancellations can seriously affect his ice cream shop’s future.
“August is normally Mason’s busiest month,” said Brown. “It is the time of year where the town opens up the world with open arms and shows them what Mason is really all about. It starts with the fair and ends with the music festival. It really is sad that everything had to be stopped this year.”
The Sundried Music Festival takes place in downtown Mason during the last full weekend before Labor day weekend, marking the beginning of the fall season. It is a three-day music festival that is hosted in the streets of downtown Mason, bringing in thousands of people to the area.
“I think not having Sundried this year will hurt us a lot,” said Brian Rasdale, owner of Bad Brewing Company in downtown Mason. “We have outdoor seating and drinks for people and its extremely popular. We make a normal two weeks’ worth of profit in just under three days. No other time of the year can give us that type of business.”
Brown said Mason is in talks businesses in Mason to help create business traffic to supplement the absence of the fair and festival.
“This is unfortunately our reality now,” said Rasdale. “Bad is open for people to drink on the patio or socially distance inside, but we are just waiting for the day to go back to full-scale operations with a packed bar,”
Bad Brewing and Daily Scoop opened at the end of May, once the state of Michigan entered phase 3 of its reopening plan. The businesses were both closed completely, and according to both owners, were hurting financially.
“For an ice cream store, the summer is obviously the most important time of the year for us,” said Sodman. “We lost a good chunk of our prime season because of the shutdown so now we are just hoping to make up some of that difference before the end of 2020.”
“Not having customers in the business hurt us tremendously,” said Rasdale. “We did carryout and takeout orders for alcohol, but the demand for that was not nearly enough to make a profit if we operated fully. We are still making our way back to normal slowly but surely.”
Both of these businesses are a part of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) in Mason, which is a group that supports small businesses in downtown Mason. Sodman said the DDA and the rest of the support from the government of Mason helped maintain normalcy in his life.
“Early on in quarantine, we were freaking out and not sure what our plan was going forward,” said Sodman. “The DDA proved to be a lifeline for us because it motivated people to come to the store again for takeout, which was huge for us.”
Rasdale echoed Sodman’s message about the support from the DDA and Mason residents alike.
Rasdale said, “We are thankful for the DDA. It brought in many customers for takeout when we feared that we were going to close our doors.”
Brown said this will remain the reality for businesses and Mason in general as the U.S. continues to grapple with rising COVID-19 cases, including in mid-Michigan.
“Mid-Michigan was moved back to Phase 2 of reopening by Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer because of outbreaks and that has forced us to halt some of our plans to return to normal,” said Brown. “The cancellation of the events is just part of it, but this will impact our kids’ return to school too and every business in Mason.”
“For now, we must continue to wait, even though it feels like we have been waiting for the last year for things to be normal,” said Sodman.