Gibsonton, FL - The largest trade show for the carnival industry kicked off today at the IISA grounds in "Gibtown". Sunny skies and 80 degree weather made for a perfect opening day. Steve Ianni, 2nd Vice-President of the IISA said "attendance was on par with last year". Attendance figures broke the 2,000 mark. Vendors generally reported good traffic and optimistic, yet cautious mood on behalf of the buyers.
The MCW booth was busy with many readers stopping by to say hello, sign up for our email list, discuss advertising or tell stories and give suggestions. We'd like to share some of the news with you:
Corey Ward and Alan Wheelock of Wheelock Rides stopped by the booth to sign up for our email update list
. The Wheelock family travels with approximately 15 rides through central and northern New York State. Show patriarch Avery Sr., along with son Alan and son-in-law Corey Ward move the show and operate the concessions.
The Wheelock's third generation is well represented on the show. Corey's son Cody (12) and Alan's son Alex (11) were walking with their fathers through the trade show. Corey's daughter Alison (10) and son Cameron (8) also help with the show as does Alan's other son Kyle (5).
Corey said the family was looking around for some new equipment but no decisions had been made yet. He said the season had been pretty good in '07 and they were looking forward to a successful 2008.
Byron Bamford has been coming to the trade show for 35 years. "My first year was the year they put the building on", he said. His show, Eastern Amusements, plays New Brunswick in Canada with their three kiddie rides. His inventory includes a kiddie wheel, a home-made car ride and inflatables.
Eastern Amusements plays mostly one or two day events and joins with other shows such as Kavanaugh Amusements, for larger dates. Other shows playing New Brunswick include Campbell Amusements who travels to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island for about 7 weeks said Mr. Bamford.
Mr. Bamford became interested in showbusiness as a young man growing up in Fredericton where King Reid Shows played the local fair. When Mr. Bamford was at university he approached Mr. Reid about working for the show and made an agreement to call in the spring for work. Unfortunately, his opportunity with the show was cut short when Mr. Reid passed away during the Maine fair meeting in January.
King Reid Shows heavily influenced the Fredericton area where many residents would work for the show during the summer. His neighbor was the office manager for the show for many years. Bamford said that a little known fact about King Reid was that he was very friendly with American artist Norman Rockwell and often visited him at his home in New Hampshire.
Phil Wilson stopped by the booth to say hello. Phil has a long family history in the side show business. Inside the IISA Club building can be found a picture of Phil's great-great grandmother, "Jolly Dixie" who weighed 712 lbs. She was married to "Skidoo" Wilson.
Phil has been in the side show business for over 40 years. He started at age 15 when he started a "Petrified Woman" show. The attraction had a dime admission price and when the customer stared disbelievingly at the woman inside she would exclaim "Oh my God I'm Petrified".
In the 60's Phil had a "Ruination Of Man" show. The front had psychadelic colors and peace signs. Inside to the left and right were some of the signs of society's decay: dirty needles, cigarette butts and trash. When walking through the tunnel you came to a sign that said "The Ruination Of Man" and beyond the tunnel; a mirror. Admission was 25 cents.
In the 70's Wilson framed the "Haunted Disco" a 125' extravaganza that featured disco dancing. The show also had an illusion component which gave the show its "haunted" moniker. Wilson had the show painted by an artist who painted for Heavy Metal Magazine. The artist traveled from New York City just to paint the show for Wilson.
In the 80's and 90's when "Just Say No" was a popular slogan Wilson framed the Billy Reid show. Billy was an example to children of the effects of drug use. Inside Billy would simulate the behavior of a young man ravaged by drugs.
When Amusements Of America took their show to Puerto Rico in the late 1990's, Wilson learned of the legend of the Chupacabra, a legendary animal that would frighten villagers at night and eat their livestock and pets. The next year, Wilson had a live Chupacabra on display in one of his shows. Inside was a Capybara, a large rat-like animal.
Throughout his side-show career, Wilson said his mainstay has always been the gorilla show. The show would thrill audiences year after year as they were amazed at the wonder of the girl who became a wild beast right before their eyes. Wilson had a gorilla show for over 35 years before becoming a full time game concessionaire.
"In order to stay in the side-show business, I needed to upgrade to Disney standards", said Wilson. The cost of doing so was prohibitive so Wilson turned his creativity to the game end of the business.
Ever the innovator, Wilson now travels with several unique games and attractions. He carries a power trampoline, a bungee-type attraction, He has a "Crazy Bike" where customers who can ride the bike for 10 feet win a prize. This year he framed a balance board where the customer must balance themselves for 6 seconds on a blank over a pivot in order to win. Prizes now include gift certificates to stores such as WalMart and Best Buy.
His newest attraction is the "Star Buck" mechanical bull ride which he has booked at the Florida State Fair along with his other attractions. Wilson has his equipment in the Thrill Zone at the fair which he helped to lay out.
During the season Wilson travels with Amusements of America, Reithoffer Shows and Wade Shows as well as booking independently with fairs. Asked if he would be returning to the side-show business Wilson said "I can't see it - but you never know".
Harold McFeely's career path began as a Marine. After leaving the Marines, he used his college degree to become a teacher. Hard work and a knack for management helped him become an assistant principal and then a principal. When the National Children's Safety Council needed an entertainer with an education background McFeely used his love of magic to conduct their school assemblies.
At 35, he was happy with his career but his summers were free. What to do? Buy a Ferris Wheel of course! A local builder had manufactured a machine and McFeely decided to purchase it for festivals and events. McFeely Amusements was born. Ambitious and hard working, McFeely quickly grew his carnival and purchased larger and larger rides. By the 1970's he had built a good-sized show but the work was hard and the net profits didn't seem to be in line with the effort extended.
One week McFeely was passing a manufacturing plant in Greer, SC when he saw a Ferris Wheel out back. He found out that Leland Johnson of Hendersonville, NC had booked a company picnic for the weekend and during the week more and more equipment arrived until the event day on Saturday. For a few hours on Saturday, the carnival was up and running. Then the picnic was over, the rides were removed and the carnival owner was paid.
When McFeely returned to his mall date, the manager of the Belk store said he needed some rides for their company picnic. McFeely provided the rides for the three-store event at North Greenville College and a new business model was born.
McFeely decided that a smaller show playing corporate events and festivals was the best way to continue to operate the business and he went about reconfiguring McFeely Amusements. One day when McFeely was negotiating with one of his festivals, his secretary Sharon answered the other phone. Sharon had worked for Eastern Airlines before joining the show. McFeely heard Sharon say "I beg your pardon, but we don't pay you, you pay us". By the time the conversation was finished Sharon had booked the festival for a flat rate.
McFeely quickly realized his secretary had it exactly right, he again changed the way his company operated its business and his secretary would later become his wife and partner.
Today, McFeely Amusements has a 30 ride arsenal, playing multiple events each weekend. Rides include a Ferris Wheel, Helicopters, Swings, Spinner, Rio Grande Train, Balloon and Round Up along with many kiddie rides. Most of the events are corporate events or festivals for flat fees although the company does retain a few select festivals they still do on percentage.
At larger events, they sometimes team up with Brinkley Entertainment to provide a larger numbers of rides. Dee Petty will bring in games for these festivals and Barry and Bonnie Cromer, owners of Cromer's Peanuts in Columbia, SC will bring in a popper.
All McFeely Amusements events are within 100 miles or so of their home base of Greer, SC. Greer is sometimes known as the carnival capital of the South. In and around that small town can be found McFeely Amusements, Usedrides.com, Sunbelt Capital, Charter Finance, Hi-Lite Rides, Timmons Concessions, Turner Concessions and a large inflatable repair company, Happy Time Reapairs.
Sharon McFeely said that business in 2007 was "consistent with last year". She said the businesses and mega churches that populate the Upstate area of South Carolina would continue to provide fertile ground for her company in the future.
New Trade Show Dates For 2009?
MCW learned late in the day that the IISA was seriously considering moving the trade show one week later in 2009. The reason for the move is the presence of the Super Bowl in Tampa in 2009. The Super Bowl would conclude on Sunday night before the traditional show dates and hotel rooms would be difficult to obtain.
By moving the dates of the show one week later, the event would be on during a week the Florida State Fair is open, other fairs in the area such as Kissimmee have had a chance to get set up and there will be a full week after the close of the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach.
A final decision will not be made until later in the week but a move is considered very likely. As always, we'll keep you posted.