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By Michael Prelesnik

Photo courtesy of Michael Prelesnik

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The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids was the site for the 124th annual Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (MAFE) Annual Convention, held January 8-10, 2009. The convention featured a trade show, banquet, hospitality suites, workshops, round table discussion sessions, a Showcase, and Mega Raffle drawing night. Over 1200 fair board members and fair officials were in attendance at the convention.

Despite the tough Michigan economy, show owners and fairs were optimistic and excited to begin the Michigan Fair Season this summer. All major shows that play Michigan were represented at the MAFE Convention.

Skerbeck Brothers Shows, of Escanaba announced their recent purchase of a Mulligan Wheel from Belle City Amusements of Deltona, Florida. According to Co-Owner Bill Skerbeck, the wheel has already been trPhoto By Michael Prelesnikansported to winter quarters in Escanaba, and new paint is planned before the wheel's Michigan debut in April. New dates on the 2009 route the show will be playing include Laporte, Indiana as well as the Croswell Agricultural Society Fair in Croswell, Michigan. Additionally, a two year contract extension for 2010 and 2011 was finalized with the Ingham County Fair, of Mason. Joining Bill at the convention was co-show owner, Joe Skerbeck, their mother Arlene, Bill's wife CJ, Jamie and Sonja Skerbeck, Dustin and Cindy Skerbeck, Carly Skerbeck, and Nicole Skerbeck.

Representing Elliott's Amusements of Mason at the convention were owners Tracy and Debbie Elliott, Tracy's Dad, Jim, their son Nick, and concession manager Nate Rowe. The Elliott's signed two new fairs for the 2009 season, the Oceana County Fair in Hart and the Huron County Fair in Bad Axe. Other recent fairs added to their summer route included the Berlin Fair in Marne and the Cass County Fair in Cassopolis. According to Tracy, the show just acquired a Mack Himalaya from Dick Carl as well as four tractors purchased from Arnold Amusements. Late in the fall, the Elliott's purchased a Show Me Grab from Phyllis Mercurio of Detroit. Jim reported he has sold his Lemonade trailer, and will be purchasing another one in time for the show spring opening in Lansing on April 8.

Despite the tough Michigan economy both the Elliott's and Skerbecks were confident about having good attendance during the upcoming season. A general trend at the convention was to hold the line on ride specials, wristband prices and gate admission. Many show owners felt that despite the rising operation costs, this just wasn't the season to raise midway pricing for Michigan fairgoers.

Ivan Arnold was at the convention and mentioned there is a list of ambitious projects being conducted at Winter Quarters in Florida. The Zipper, Tilt-a-Whirl, 1001 Nights, and Raiders are all being sand blasted and powder-coated for the 2009 season. The new look of the Zipper and 1001 Nights will debut at the Florida State Fair in Tampa in February. Although no new dates were added to the Arnold's Michigan route, Ivan stated this season the show has maintained the same Michigan route as last year, and he was excited about the rides being re-built and was looking forward to a strong summer in Michigan.

Tony Anderson from Schmidt Amusements of Standish, was upbeat about the upcoming season, noting that for the second year the show will have three units. At the Playworld Amusements booth, Kyle Brady, son of show owner Jeff Brady said the show had added the Sanilac County Fair in Sandusky in 2009, and they also will again play a number of large Michigan Fairs including Ionia, Midland, Oakland, and Clare Counties.

Other shows represented at the convention included McDonagh's Amusements, Wade Shows, Miller Spectacular Shows, and N.A.M.E. Making the trip North from Florida for Wade Shows to attend the convention were Melissa Zaitshik, Officer Manager Jo Clever, Donnie and Peggy Reid, and Marilyn and Corky Jones. In the N.A.M.E. suite were Tim Jenkins, as well as Blake and Danny Huston of Mid-America Shows. The Michigan Carnival Safety Unit was also represented by the state's ride inspectors who conducted a round table discussion with show owners and fair board members. They also had a booth in the trade show throughout the weekend.

Debbie Elliott of Elliott's Amusements and Sonja Skerbeck of Skerbeck Brothers Shows also teamed up during the convention to present a workshop to fair board members entitled, "Best Practices for the Fair and Carnival Relationship." They spoke to fair boards about how to have positive fair and carnival relationships by improving communication, understanding carnival financial constraints, and learning about the importance of having an ethics policy between fairs and carnivals. The session was well attended and a tremendous benefit to the fair board members in attendance.

As the convention ended Saturday night with the annual banquet and entertainment, attendees seemed optimistic and excited to finish planning for the 2009 fair season. Most shows are planning to open for their first events at shopping malls and plazas in mid-April.


Show owners, Joe Skerbeck (left) and Bill Skerbeck (right) are joined by their mother, Arlene Skerbeck at the MAFE Convention.

Jim Elliott (left) and Ivan Arnold work the trade show.

At the trade show are:
Back: Nate Rowe, Elliott's Concessionaire Manager, Jim Elliott, and Tracy Elliott.
Front: Nick Elliott and Tony Anderson co-owner of Schmidt Amusements.

Debbie Elliott (left) and Sonja Skerbeck (right) present a workshop to fair board members about carnival and fair relationships.

In the Wade Shows Hospitality Suite are (back, left: Melissa Zaitshik, Peggy Reid, Donnie Reid, and Corky Jones. (front, left to right): Joe Clever and Marilyn Jones.

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