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Reithoffer Shows signs multi-year extensions for New Mexico State Fair and Pensacola Interstate Fair


By Don Muret

Photo courtesy of Don Muret

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Reithoffer Shows has signed extensions with two of its biggest events, according to Rick Reithoffer, the carnival's co-owner and head of the Blue Unit. The New Mexico State Fair and Pensacola (Fla.) Interstate Fair have both committed to multiyear renewals, Reithoffer said.

In Albuquerque alone, the carnival added another four years to its initial four-year deal that had one year remaining on the contract. Reithoffer first started playing the state fair in 2015.

Pensacola, meanwhile, signed a five-year renewal with Reithoffer, extending the overall contract through 2026.

In addition, Reithoffer Shows enters the first year of a new five-year contract at the upcoming National Peanut Festival (Nov. 3-12) in Dothan, Ala. It's the final stop of the 2017 season for Photo By Don Muretthe Blue Unit, which is currently set up in Pensacola. Those dates are Oct. 19-29.

The Blue Unit recently wrapped its run at the Georgia National Fair in Perry, the state's biggest fair. Rick Reithoffer said he had a very good run there despite having to overcome getting "swiped" by Hurricane Nate in early October.

There's good news heading in 2018. The carnival owns multiple rides produced by KMG, the maker of the Fireball which was involved in a deadly accident in July at the Ohio State Fair. Reithoffer's Speed and Tango, both KMG pieces, have been approved for use in the state of Florida, where the carnival opens in February before heading north for the bulk of the season. 

Separately, show officials have ordered new arms and seats for its Fireball, which has been out of service after the accident in Columbus. The ride was subsequently tested and approved, but Rick Reithoffer made the decision to keep it down for the rest of the season to avoid "bad press," he said.

In Shelby, NC., the Orange Unit finished its run at the Cleveland County Fair before closing the season with dates in Spartanburg and Aiken, S.C. and Savannah, Ga.

Reithoffer Shows' head ride supervisor Tom Popovich got a taste this season for what it's like to speak to the press on behalf of a carnival, and he's done a solid job filling the role during a turbulent time in the industry.

Popovich, 34, is the son of Tom Popovich Sr., who handles Reithoffer's winter quarters in Florida and serves as the show's head of maintenance. At the Cleveland County Fair here, the junior Popovich stepped up for Pat Reithoffer, head of the Orange Unit, and concessions manager Nick Alberts. Both Reithoffer and Alberts were out of state attending to personal business and unavailable for comment.

The Orange unit had a strong season this year, but like other shows, it's been hounded by the media after what happened in Columbus, Popovich said.

"It's been crazy since the Ohio incident," he said. "At the time, we were in Clearfield, Pa., just getting ready to go into the West Virginia State Fair, which brought in extra inspectors. They're all on high alert. Luckily, I knew some people on site [at the Ohio State Fair] and was able to get some firsthand information."

The Orange Unit does not have a Fireball, but it does have a Freak Out, which is made by KMG and has the same spins and rotation as the Fireball when the ride is in operation.  The Freak Out has a different seat design, and was cleared by the factory to operate after the Ohio accident.

Both rides have been under temporary bans in both North Carolina and South Carolina, but Popovich was able to get his ride approved in North Carolina after providing documentation from KMG that it was safe to operate, he said. 

"I did my ultrasonic testing two days after the accident, which tests the thickness of the metal in the ride carriages ... and it matched the original factory specifications perfectly," Popovich said.

 "But it wasn't approved until Sept. 23, when we were going through tear down Frederick, Md.," he said. "It was too late for [Shelby], so we trucked it to Perry. We'll swap rides back and forth [with the Blue Unit]. Right now, Rick's got our Freak Out and Tango."

Despite the adjustments, Shelby did not get shortchanged. The Tango, which measures 72 feet tall and 40 feet wide, would not fit on the Cleveland County midway unless the Orange Unit removed both the Dutch Wheel and the Huss Tornado, which are typically mainstays at the fair, Popovich said.

The Tornado alone typically is among the top two grossing rides in Cleveland County, he said.

This year, the re-themed Wisdom Typhoon, repainted in blue and green with a new LED light package, was another top attraction in Cleveland County. The show's new Zamperla Lolli Swing ranked No. 1 in kiddieland, due in part to accommodating both children and adults, Popovich said. 

All told, both units are accustomed to juggling rides and attractions to meet the demands of all their events. Last year, the Blue Unit picked up the Panhandle South Plains Fair in Lubbock, Texas. This year, South Plans ran concurrent with the Bloomsburg (Pa.) Fair and the Sumter County (S.C.) Fair, two other Reithoffer clients. All three fairs run in late September, resulting in coordination at the highest level for Reithoffer Shows to ensure all three fairs have what they need to optimize midway revenue.

"It's the nature of the business," Popovich said.

Reithoffer Shows was fortunate to get its international workers through the H2B visa program. Between the two units, they employ about 150 Foreign workers, all of Hispanic descent.

The federal program put a cap on seasonal workers at 66,000 this year, with no exemptions for returning workers as in the past, and with the landscaping industry taking about half of the workforce, some carnivals never got their allotment of workers.

"Domestic workers are few and far between," Popovich said. "I typically get my returning guys. We're paying $410 to $420 a week for the guy who picks up trash.

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