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Coronavirus took their Asparagus Festival and county fair. Here's how Stockton is 'learning as we go'

The coronavirus took its toll on two iconic events in Stockton, the Asparagus Festival and the county fair. As businesses get by, they'll be learning as they go.

STOCKTON, Calif. — As California grapples with slowing the spread of the coronavirus throughout the state, mitigation efforts took their toll on businesses and events. Public gatherings were nixed, stores closed, and restaurants were forced to run take-out operations in order to stay afloat.

The short-term effects of the coronavirus arrived, and they devastated hallmark celebrations in Stockton — the annual Asparagus Festival and even the San Joaquin County Fair.

"This is the new normal," said Doug Wilhoit, Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce CEO. "We're learning as we go. We're learning on the fly."

As funerals, weddings, sporting events were canceled, the effects began to pile up for the San Joaquin County Fair. After 35 event cancellations at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, the Board of Directors canceled the county fair for 2020.

RELATED: 'I try to be positive' | San Joaquin fair cancels as Sacramento County Fair stays hopeful

They cited financial issues and the coronavirus for the closure. Troy Bowers, Interim-CEO of the fair, said the cancellation of small and big events, like the Asparagus Festival and Jurassic Quest, left them no other alternative.

"We rely on that revenue to continue our operations out here on the fairgrounds. We’re projecting that we’re going to lose $260,000 in cash revenue in these next two months,” said Bowers.

Bowers said the cancellation of iconic events, like the fair and the Asparagus Festival, were a big impact to the area, both financially and culturally.

"I think they're probably the largest gatherings that happen in the county, and they pretty much identify who we are as a county," Bowers said.

Despite the setback, Bowers is confident that the fair will bounce back and adjust. However, for small businesses in Stockton, it'll be a game of wait-and-see.

Wilhoit says business, the chamber of commerce, and the community will have to wait and find out if a similar long-term effect will impact them as well.

For now, there'll be aid from federal and state governments to keep livelihoods going. But while the aid helps in the moment, it is unclear if efforts to mitigate the financial effects the coronavirus will linger.

"That is a short-term relief. It depends on how far this goes, how long it goes, and what these local businesses had in reserve," Wilhoit said.

Business like Bud's Seafood Grille have been in business for 27 years, a rarity for an industry notorious for high turnover and slim profit lines. William "Bud" Millsaps credits the loyal customers he’s garnered over the years as the reason he's stayed afloat during this time.

RELATED: Loyal customers kept this Stockton restaurant alive 27 years. Coronavirus won't stop them now.

"It's heartwarming, because I do just wonder, 'is anyone going to come in? With all of this going on?', he said. "And, they are! They're loyal. We have some very, very loyal customers," he told ABC10.

For Wilhoit, customers and community support like that is a critical component to help keep businesses alive. 

These restaurants deal with taxes, salary, benefits, rent, and cost of food that add to expenses, so relief from community support can certainly help. However, as weeks go on, there's always a worry that things could slow down.

"As time goes on, the less spendable income folks will have, and they'll just save it for the basics they'll need in their homes," Wilhoit said.

However, despite the setbacks and cancellations, Wilhoit is confident that Stockton will see the other side of this situation and come out even stronger for it.

"As a fifth generation Stocktonian, I know the people of this community pretty well. Going to say I know them damn well." Wilhoit said. "I am convinced, when we get through this, those that are responsible and get their businesses going… we'll be there front and center and we'll get out of this."


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WATCH ALSO:  Loyal customers help Stockton restaurant celebrate its 27th anniversary during coronavirus pandemic

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