GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN -- The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids hosted the 125th Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (MAFE) Annual Convention. The convention began Thursday, January 7, with a snow storm which made travel to the convention difficult, but once everyone arrived, nearly 1,300 fair board members were in attendance representing 69 fairs, and dozens of associate members filled the trade show and hospitality suites. Despite a tough economy and the nation's highest unemployment, the mood at the convention was upbeat and there was excitement about the 2010 fair season. The convention ended with a "bang" in celebration of 125 years when Melrose Fireworks Company sponsored a 15 minute spectacular fireworks show over the Grand River after the banquet. It was a magnificent show to view from Steelcase DeVos Place, the site of the banquet.
Discussion at the convention among fair board members in attendance related to concerns about the Michigan economy and the fate of fairs facing the loss of premium funding from the state. In the spring of 2009, the governor announced an end to premium reimbursement for fairs. Last summer fairs tackled this challenge in a variety of ways including obtaining sponsorships for premiums, continuing to fund them as an expense to the fair, partial premium funding, and cutting the premiums altogether. Fairs which did not have premiums in 2009 found that the number of exhibitors at their fair dramatically decreased. A workshop about how to fund premiums was facilitated by Steve Thelen of the Saline Community Fair and LC Scramlin, CFE, of the Oakland County Fair. Several workshops were designed to help fair officials organize the best possible fair on a limited budget and topics included: affordable free grounds entertainment, sponsorship ideas that work, marketing using social media, providing value to the fair goer on a tight budget, and planning off season events as fundraisers for the fair.
Sessions for carnival owners and fair board members alike included Carnival Safety led by Mark Doman and Tim Slattery of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, Carnival Safety Unit; Workers Compensation Guidelines facilitated by Greg Dziewicki of Liberty Group; a discussion about fair board and carnival relationships by Sonja Skerbeck of Skerbeck Carnival; and a round table discussion about Department of Transportation rules of the road for motor carriers.
Several carnivals were represented at the trade show and generally reported a fair 2009 Michigan carnival season. The rainy and cold summer weather had more of an effect on midway grosses than the economy. Several fairs marketed their event as a "stay-cation" - a fun event close to home, which resulted in solid attendance at the majority of Michigan Fairs.
Bill and Joe Skerbeck of Skerbeck Carnival announced at the convention that they have purchased a Vertigo ride from A.R.M Manufacturing of Wintersville, Ohio. They will take delivery of this piece in April, and it will primarily travel on Bill's unit. They also acquired a Stinson 165 band organ as a customer amenity that will be on Joe,s Unit. New in 2010, Joe's unit will play the Clare County Fair in Harrison after a 34 year absence. Joe reports the show previously played Harrison from 1958 to 1976.
Tracy and Debbie Elliott reported the 2009 season grosses were down, mainly because of rainy, wet and cold weather throughout the summer. They were pleased to announce the recent inking of a contract with the Eaton County Fair in Charlotte for 2010. They are also currently seeking new equipment for this year to add to their 20 ride show. The company now plays nine Michigan County Fairs. For the 2010 season, they will open just after Easter in Lansing at Sky Lanes Bowling Center.
Kyle Brady of Playworld Amusements reported a successful 2009 season in Michigan and a solid fall season in North Carolina, culminating in the booking of two pieces at the Texas State Fair. Last year they added a Wisdom Sizzler and Cobra coaster to their line up as well as a Fabri G Force. Kyle will take their Wacky Worm coaster to the I-X Center in Cleveland, Ohio for the I-X Indoor Amusement Park, March 26-April 18. This is the first year the show has participated in that event. The complete show's spring opening will be at the Holland Tulip Festival in May.
Across the trade show floor, Tony and Peggy Anderson of Schmidt Amusements located in Standish said that their unit has grown from 9 to 11 rides. They recently acquired an Eli Ferris Wheel and High Lite Merry Go Round, as well as a new generator. In their third season, Tony and Peggy continue to build a route and also book rides in with other show throughout the summer. According to Tony, new events for the Anderson's unit this year include the Eaton Rapids St. Peter Parish Festival in May, the Munger Potato Festival in July, and the Caseville Cheeseburger Festival in August. Schmidt Amusements will open the 2010 season on January 22 at the outdoor Tip Up Town Festival at Houghton Lake. The show will provide six rides, food concessions, and games for the annual festival.
Ivan Arnold of Arnold Amusements reported that a variety of winter quarters projects are currently underway in Riverview, Florida, but the painting is being delayed by the cold Florida weather. The Sellner Jumping Jumbos is primed and ready to be painted, and this refurbished ride will debut in Tampa at the Florida State Fair in February. Other rides in the shop include the Tilt-A-Whirl, Raiders, and Music Express. Ivan's son Jon will be painting these rides at the winterquarters. Arnold,s latest purchase was a Zamperla Swing ride last summer. Ivan also showed off pictures of an older Allan Herschel helicopter ride that was completely refurbished, painted, and mounted on a new trailer by grandson Alex Arnold. The show will be staying in Florida two additional weeks this year in April to play church festivals and then will travel north to open at the Durand Railroad Days in May followed by the Laingsburg Lions Festival.
Other carnival representatives in attendance at the convention included Danny and Blake Huston of Mid-America Shows, Jeff Williams and Don & Peggy Reid of W.G. Wade Shows, Blake McDonagh from McDonagh's Amusements, Terry Schmidt of T.J. Schmidt and Company, and Pam Guthrie of Jules & Beck Combined Shows.
Additional events throughout the weekend included the Entertainment Showcase on Thursday, a mega raffle Friday night, and the business session which featured key note speaker Baxter Black, the MAFE board of director elections, and the presentation of the volunteer and communication awards.
Overall the convention ended with excitement about the upcoming 2010 season. Michigan carnivals are continuing to make substantial capital investments and fair boards are being more creative with promotions and are working hard to stretch budgets to the limit. There is confidence that in the new year fair goers will continue the 125 year tradition of visiting the local county fair and spending money on the midway!