Fairgrounds hires new CEO as it readies for return of August fair

When the first Ventura County Fair in three years opens August 3, rebounding from the pandemic, it will be led by a new CEO.

Stacy Rianda, deputy manager of the Fresno Fairgrounds, has been hired as the top administrator for the seaside fairgrounds in Ventura, fair leaders announced June 6.

She succeeds Barbara Quaid, the long-time CEO who announced her retirement two years ago but continued working part-time. Quaid, 73, of Ventura, will work alongside Rianda during this year’s fair before ending her employment that began 41 years ago as a fairgrounds receptionist.

"It will always be part of my life," Quaid said Thursday. "I couldn't have asked for a better place to work."

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Rianda has worked as deputy manager at the Big Fresno Fair for 21 years, acting as a co-CEO for the past two-plus years. Leah Lacayo, president of the Ventura County Fairgrounds Board of Directors, cited Rianda’s leadership skills and her experience at writing grants for funding the Fresno County fair, which attracts 600,000 people a year.

“She has the experience to take us to greater heights,” Lacayo said. “We hope with her leadership we can increase revenue and attendance.”

The last fair, in 2019, drew about 300,000 people. COVID-19 forced fairgrounds leaders to cancel the last two fairs and temporarily end many of leased events that brought in revenue. A full-time fairground staff of 40 was reduced to about a half-dozen.

The fairgrounds survived by leasing space for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations and for drive-in concerts. Earlier this year, a poker casino moved to the fairground's Derby Club, which also houses satellite wagering.

Fairgrounds everywhere scrambled. In 2020, the Fresno County fair was replaced by a food event in which people drove up to concession booths to get their fix on corndogs and other fair food.

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“When you’re in the mass gathering business and you can’t have a mass gathering, it’s definitely a huge blow to your bottom line,” Rianda said in a phone interview Thursday.

Noting she still needs to assess needs in Ventura County, Rianda talked about the importance of looking for sponsorships and other resources to take care of deferred maintenance and other needs that have piled up during the pandemic.

She’ll start her new job July 6, receiving a salary of at least $120,000. Lacayo said the exact compensation is still being negotiated with the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

"I’m excited to get there and take this fair to the next level," Rianda said.

Her hiring was announced June 6 after a closed-door fairgrounds board discussion.

Ventura County Fairgrounds CEO Barbara Quaid, shown at the right in this pre-pandemic file photo, officially retired two years ago but continued to work part time.

This year's fair runs Aug. 3 through Aug. 14. The grandstand entertainment will likely be announced later this month. Temporary workers are being hired and advance tickets are available on the fairgrounds' website. Concessionaires have been contracted and carnival plans are "pretty much in place," Quaid said.

The first Ventura County Fair in three years will begin its 12-day run on Aug. 3.

COVID-19 remains unpredictable. If transmission levels surge dramatically and indoor mask mandates return, the fairgrounds will follow them. If that doesn’t happen, people will make their own choices, though masks will be available, Quaid said.

"We’re all excited about the fair this year,” she said. “We know it’s going to be a bit of a challenge. We don’t know what to expect.”

Quaid started volunteering at the fairgrounds 50 years ago and has served as CEO since 2005. She said it’s possible she’ll continue to volunteer at the fairgrounds after her job ends.

Lacayo hopes that happens.

“We love Barbara,” she said. “We think she’s done a great job.”

Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at tom.kisken@vcstar.com or 805-437-0255.

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This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: New CEO hired as Ventura County Fair rebounds from COVID-19 pandemic