CONCORD, N.C. --- For Amusements of America, six months makes a world of difference. The carnival returned here in April to play the Charlotte Fair at a spot across the street from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Beautiful weather over two weekends paid dividends for Morris Vivona Jr.'s unit.
Last October, the show wasn't so fortunate playing the same location for the first time. Late in the 2016 season, the bones were pretty much picked clean by other carnivals playing events in North Carolina's biggest market, including the nearby Cabarras County Fair, a date held by Powers Great American Midways.
By comparison, Amusements of America became the first to pop its Ferris wheel in the air this year in Greater Charlotte. Promoter Larry Linton produces the Charlotte Fair with $25 pay-one-
price wristbands. Vivona's unit had about 20 rides set up in addition to 25 game and food concessions.
At the Charlotte Fair, independent game concessionaires Keith Gillette, George Goetz and James Rutt were among the operators. They're all regulars with Amusements of America. Longtime photo booth vendor Henry Tindal, profiled earlier on Carnival Warehouse
, was also booked at the event.
"Business was much better here this time," Vivona said. "We're one of the first carnivals in the area this year. By time you get here in October, carnivals have played every street corner in the area."
To start the season, Amusements of America caught four consecutive weekends of good weather, which Vivona called "amazing" compared with a typical spring in the Carolinas. The unit kicked off the season at a Hispanic festival in Durham, N.C.
After the Charlotte Fair, the carnival headed north to Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey, taking it through mid-July. From there, the show plays upstate New York for the balance of the summer before heading back to Virginia and North Carolina (and another Charlotte run) through mid-October. For the final two dates of the season, Amusements of America's two units combine for fairs in Charleston, S.C. and Waycross, Ga.
Marco Vivona, son of Dominic Vivona, and Rob Vivona, Phil's son run the other unit together, which comes to Charlotte in May to play a new spot in a parking lot next to the Park Expo and Conference Center near the city's central business district. Marco's unit started the season at the Florence (S.C.) Civic Center, where his family lives.
Morris' unit was busy in its Florence winter quarters, completely rebuilding the Pharoah's Fury and Thunderbolt. Separately, the Century Wheel went through an LED lighting upgrade with "pucks and programs" provided by Maxtron.
In addition, CMD Enterprises supplied new LED lights for the Fury, the Rock and Roll and the carnivals ticket boxes. Vivona gave a shout-out to Chad Griffith, the company's owner for his diligence in making sure the system was working properly.
"He's done a good job, he's been helpful and the customer service is unbeatable," Vivona said. "He came to see us in Durham and Charlotte to make sure everything is right. In this industry, it's pretty uncommon to offer that kind of service."
In February, the unit took delivery of a new Kolmax Teacup ride. As he reported last fall, the unit ordered two new KMG Speed thrill rides. The first one is expected to be delivered in October and the second one should arrive in March 2018, Vivona said.
On the labor front, for the first time, Morris' unit is using international workers. About 10 workers holding H2B visas were scheduled to join the show by the end of April. To this point, Vivona held off on using foreign labor, but now he needs the additional help to support the domestic force that's been in place over the past 30 years.
"Using locals was getting harder and harder," he said. "We used to pull into a fairgrounds and there would be 20 to 30 people chasing you for work. That doesn't work anymore.
Vivona is encouraged by the initial turnouts this season and feels a great season is in store for the carnival founded almost 80 years ago by his father and uncles. The weather certainly helps, but during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, people don't seem afraid to spend money,he said.
"We're going to make the carnival business great again," Vivona said.