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Illinois Ag Director 'very optimistic' about return of Du Quoin State Fair

  • Jerry Costello

    Jerry Costello

  • The Du Quoin State Fairgrounds are expected to welcome visitors back to the fair this August.

    The Du Quoin State Fairgrounds are expected to welcome visitors back to the fair this August.
    Courtesy of Illinois Landmarks

By Renee Trappe
updated: 4/14/2021 1:43 PM

Illinois Director of Agriculture Jerry Costello said Wednesday he is very optimistic about the 2021 Du Quoin State Fair happening this year.

Costello, a southern Illinois legislator from 2011 to 2019, was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture in March 2020. He said planning for this year's fair, to be held Aug. 27-Sept. 6, is well underway. Last year's fair was canceled due to the pandemic.

"Josh Gross (manager of the Du Quoin State Fair) and his group are going full-bore just like they would any other year," Costello said.

Moreover, his department wants to bring other events back to the fairgrounds as well, like the popular Street Machine Nationals, which this year is scheduled for June 4-6.

"The fairgrounds, and the fair, it is such an economic engine for southern Illinois," he added.

Costello lives in Smithton. He was born in Franklin County, and while he grew up in Belleville, his family has a farm in Sesser near Rend Lake that produced crops and raises cattle. He has a satellite Agriculture office at the Du Quoin fairgrounds that he visits frequently -- anywhere from once a week to multiple times a month.

Costello said not only is the Department of Agriculture very optimistic about both state fairs, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker is eager to see them return as well. The Springfield fair is scheduled for Aug. 12-22.

Pritzker's announced "bridge" phase of the Restore Illinois plan would work in the fairs' favor. In 2020, the state would have had to reach Phase 5 of Restore Illinois before crowds of that size would have been permitted; but Costello believes the bridge phase will be good enough.

Under the bridge phase, festivals and general admission outdoor spectator events will be able to have 30 people per 1,000 square feet. Under the current Phase 4, only 15 people per 1,000 square feet are permitted.

Illinois has met the vaccination metric to move to the "bridge" phase -- 70% of Illinois residents 65 and older have had at least one dose of vaccine -- but COVID-19 hospital admissions are increasing, which is holding up the transition. Increasing hospitalizations are occurring not just in Illinois, but across the U.S.

Costello said the best thing people can do to support the fair is to get vaccinated.

"Every person in southern Illinois who gets vaccinated puts us in a different (improved) position," Costello said, adding the closer the region gets to herd immunity, the better it will be for the return of all events.

While Costello is very optimistic about the fair's return, he said people may notice some changes.

"The real question is what the fairs may look like in comparison to fairs of the past," Costello added, saying the changes would most likely come at venues that pack in a lot of people, like concerts and the Grandstand events.

"Everything we do will be in consultation with the Illinois Department of Public Health," as well as the Perry County Health Department, he said.

Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi said he finds Costello a "breath of fresh air."

"He's a southern Illinois director of Agriculture and he knows how important this fair is to Du Quoin and the region," Alongi said.

"We have agreed to work together to make this fair work," the mayor added, saying he has offered resources. "If you look at the (entertainment) lineup it's probably the best we've had in 8-10 years."

Alongi said they are in talks about what other events, like the Street Machine Nationals, might look like.

Costello said an event held in June could look very different from one held around Labor Day.

Whatever they look like, Alongi believes people are more than ready to return to the fairgrounds.

"Will people maybe pick a less populated day or night to come? It's likely," he said. "But I think people will come back. I think they are dying to get out."

• Tickets to the Du Quoin State Fair Grandstand are on sale at

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