Harrisburg sale won’t be in Harrisburg this year

Harrisburg sale won’t be in Harrisburg this year

August 5, 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic has made the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex unavailable for the Standardbred Horse Sales Company’s annual yearling and mixed sales traditionally held the first week of November, but a search for a new location has been underway for months.

by Dave Briggs

Standardbred Horse Sales Company (SHSC) president and CEO Pete Spears said this year’s Harrisburg sale won’t take place in Harrisburg due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but will go ahead as a live auction at another location.

“We’re as committed as we can possibly be to offering a live auction and, in order to do that successfully, we feel that we have to maximize the number of venues to choose from and spread them out over a large geographic area and even potentially, depending on the situation, be flexible on the dates,” Spears said Tuesday afternoon, a day after informing consignors by email that the sale’s traditional home, the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex, will not be available.

“I think for all practical purposes we will not be anticipating using the complex this year and we’re making preparations to go elsewhere,” Spears said.

“It wasn’t unanticipated. We’ve been looking into other venues as a back-up for several months. I think it’s been pretty evident that [Pennsylvania] Governor [Tom] Wolf has taken a strong stand in favor of public health over economic activity and that’s been his pattern, so it really doesn’t surprise us that this decision has been made. So, we’re prepared.

“[Sale operations manager] Dale [Welk] and I have been looking for other venues for at least three months.”

Spears said the SHSC has three potential alternative venues — each one in a different state. The company has made contact with a facility in a fourth state that may work and have identified a fifth site that might work that they have yet to contact. He was reluctant to name the facilities on his short list to avoid confusion prior to a location being finalized, but said the locations vary from eastern states to the Midwest and as far south as Kentucky.

“We’re trying to maximize our options,” Spears said, adding the number one priority is finding a facility that will work best given COVID-19 restrictions.

“Dale Welk, I think, is the best operations manager in the business and he’ll figure out a way to make a sale work anywhere.

“Each state has its own [COVID-19] guidelines and restrictions, so we’ve been looking for facilities that would satisfy those things. So, there are places that we’ve looked in which we’d have to basically conduct the sale outside in tents. There are other places that would offer a combination of indoor and outdoor facilities and there are places where there are permanent stalls in huge barns, but because barns can be left so open, they still count as an outdoor event… so there is minimal tenting.”

Spears said the SHSC is expected to make a decision on an alternate facility by mid-September at the latest.

“But if necessary, and if there’s an advantage to it, we can delay that decision depending on whether the consignors would prefer to wait and have the sale later, hoping that [pandemic] conditions will improve,” he said. “Any decision we make on venues can be delayed if necessary. Dale needs six-to-eight weeks in order to prepare for his set-up, regardless of where we go.”

Spears said he initially thought it might be possible to keep the sale at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex because, “a decision was made to include equine auctions as economic-sustaining activities, such that they should be able to be operated under reasonable conditions,” he said. “That was posted on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture website. We took that as a favorable decision. They also posted very extensive guidelines about how to conduct public events, COVID-19 guidelines. We submitted a very extensive protocol to farm show officials, who sent it up the line for review. We felt that it complied with all of the directives. We were told, after the decision, that our protocol was excellent, but that the Farm Show would be unlikely to be available for our event and we should look elsewhere.”

Spears said consignors would like there to be a live auction, not an online-only event, but the company is making plans to have online bidding and telephone bidding to complement the normal live auction.

“We’re going to promote the online and telephone bidding extensively,” Spears said. “Even under the best of circumstances, many of our customers are older and many of them have significant medical conditions. They would probably benefit, from a health standpoint, by staying home and doing their purchases online or by phone. We’ll do everything possible to make that happen.

“We’re working with a company called ProxiBid and they run thousands of online auctions. They work with Fasig-Tipton’s [thoroughbred sales]…We think it’ll be a big convenience for customers.”

As for the predicted impact on the bottom line of having to change locations, Spears said he isn’t overly concerned yet, especially given the quality of the horses due to be sold.

“I think as long as we can run a live auction, in a nice facility and do it in a professional manner, I think everything is going to be fine. I think that we’re doing everything humanly possible to make that happen,” he said.

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