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With Big E’s return, a quest to recoup $1 million in lost revenue begins in West Springfield

Date: 6/21/2021

WEST SPRINGFIELD – While many people look forward to all the entertainment, food and fun that the Big E has to offer, businesses in West Springfield look forward to earning back their revenue lost in 2020.

On June 15, Mayor William Reichelt joined the Eastern States Exposition in announcing that the Big E will be returning this year at full capacity from Sept. 17 until Oct. 3. Last year’s fair was canceled, a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Charlie Baker, however, recently rescinded the remaining COVID-19 restrictions and lifted State of Emergency on June 15, making the announcement possible.

“Our thanks go out to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Mayor Reichelt and a special thank you to West Springfield’s Director of Public Health Jeanne Galloway, who has been working closely with us as we all navigated the many phases of the Massachusetts reopening process,” Eastern States Exposition President Gene Cassidy said.

Last year, the community lost out on approximately $1 million. Although this wasn’t all directly related to the Big E, Reichelt said a part of it was.

“The $1 million we lost was from meals tax and hotel/motel room tax. Obviously, if there’s no one traveling, there’s no one staying in the hotels/motels and no one can pay that tax,” he explained. The same goes for meals tax- while restaurants were closed for over three months and then slowly reopened – that’s where the town was able to see their lost revenue.

West of the River Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Robin Wozniak said, “Our members such as Partners Restaurant, EB’s Restaurant and the numerous hotels that are members of the chamber on Riverdale [Street] felt the impact greatly.”

The Big E fair itself and the Eastern States Exposition as a whole boast a $500 million expanded economic impact on the region, but Reichelt claimed, “It’s kind of an urban legend that we make a ton of money off the Big E – we don’t really.”

He added, “In West Springfield, the 17 day fair is tough because it’s 17 days of traffic for us locals. There’s a lot of people in town who have businesses on the grounds – they make money. We make money in permitting fees – we make about $50,000, but we also spend a lot of money to support the fair as well.”

Reichelt claimed businesses on and near Memorial Avenue are frustrated with the fair because they are forced to close for those 17 days.

On the flip side, there are other events that happen on the grounds that Reichelt believes are beneficial. This includes the horse shows, dog shows and train shows that take place throughout the year. During this time, people will visit local restaurants and bars on Memorial Avenue, allowing for businesses to profit. Although this isn’t directly linked to the fair, it is connected with the Eastern States Exposition and the events they host.

West Springfield has 20 hotels and motels in town. Reichelt said the reason for this is because of all the people coming through, as the town is located at the crossroads of Interstates 90 and 91.

According to Cassidy, the Big E will have a brand new ferris wheel this year.

Reichelt said, “It’s a 150-foot ferris wheel that they say is the largest midway ferris wheel – at least in the country.” The ferris wheel will have enclosed gondolas and be located in front of the Better Living Center.

“I grew up in West Side and the Big E was just a part of life for however many years. I think getting that back and getting back in the routine, and for some people, they complain about the Big E for 17 days – they get to do that again and life goes back to normal,” said Reichelt. “I think this will likely be one of the biggest sustained gatherings, at least in Western Massachusetts, if not New England, that we’ve seen post-COVID.”

Although some people will be concerned about the large crowds, the mayor assured, “I certainly understand that, but with the vaccine roll-out that we’ve had and a clinic on the Eastern States Exposition grounds for two months, I think we'll be good for everyone feeling safe to go out.”

Wozkniak also expressed optimism.

"I am hoping to see these businesses rebound this year now that the Big E will be safely back on,” she said. “I am looking forward to a fantastic Big E season this year.”