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Deggeller deals with sudden loss of VA State Fair
Show adds Huss Flipper; Wild Maus to ride lineup
By Don Muret
Deggeller Attractions has a big hole to fill after the State Fair of Virginia filed for bankruptcy liquidation in December.
SFVA Inc., the nonprofit group that privately ran the state fair, filed Chapter 7, immediately ceasing all operations. The state fair owed $150 million in secured and unsecured debt, according to local reports. It was forced to hand over the fair property and assets to its lenders, which included several banks as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The assets are to be auctioned off by Motley's Auction and Realty Group on May 22nd.
For the past 30 years, Deggeller had provided the carnival midway at the state fair, an event that typically generated about $1 million in gross revenue from 50 to 55 rides and attractions, said Andy Deggeller, the show's general manager.
Officials from Richmond International Raceway, a NASCAR facility and the old home of the state fair before it moved to a new location in 2009, have offered to play host to this year's event, Deggeller confirmed. As of early May, however, the fair's status was still up in the air.
"We have been trying to figure out what's going on as much as anybody else," Deggeller said. "We can set up and tear down over night, but there needs to be some planning ahead of time. The carnival is a small part of the fair. There is livestock and entertainment to be booked. It's hard to put it all together in a short period of time."
Three years ago, the fair moved from its old site at the speedway to Meadow Event Park, a 360-acre property near Kings Dominion theme park. Fair officials built an entirely new complex on the grounds, the birthplace of Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
"They built a facility that would be hard to duplicate anywhere," Deggeller said. "It was first class, beautiful. They did a great job but then the bottom fell out of the economy and they were not able to pay their bills."
Losing the State Fair of Virginia is a big hit, but the carnival is working on some dates to plug the gap in late September and early October, he said. No dates are confirmed at this point.
It helps that Deggeller plays most of the summer months in Virginia should a last-minute decision be made to resurrect the state fair. Over the course of the season, seven to eight fairs among Deggeller's 20 dates are located in the state, Deggeller said.
Early in the season, things were holding up well for Deggeller as long as the weather cooperated. The show had a three-weekend run at Fort Bragg, N.C. set to wrap up on Mother's Day before moving to the Virginia Beach arena to play several still dates.
The show bought a used Huss Flipper from Adventurer's Family Entertainment Center in Brooklyn, the old Nellie Bly amusement park. Deggeller is in the process of re-theming it into the Super Nova and it will debut at the Salem Fair, a Fourth of July spot.
Another piece new to the show is a Ross Owen dark ride recently purchased by Jason and Angela Floyd, independent ride owners whose roots lie with the old Cumberland Valley Shows. They bought the dark ride from Gene Dean of Fiesta Shows, Deggeller said.
The Floyds, in their sixth season booking with Deggeller, own three other rides including a Quadzilla and Wiggle Worm, both manufactured by Wisdom Industries. They also book games and food concessions with Deggeller.
Andy Deggeller's wife, Jamie, works in the office and makes sure the carnival employs quality labor. The show uses a large number of international workers from Mexico and South Africa hired through the J1 visa program.
Unlike the H2B visa system, J1 workers are free to work and travel in the U.S. The key is keeping them happy on the job so they stick with the show throughout their four-month stays, Deggeller said.
Heidi Elsperman, Andy's sister, is responsible for maintaining the show's Facebook page and the carnival's website.
Deggeller Attractions is in its 33rd season of operations after incorporating the business in 1979, and the family's involvement in the carnival industry dates back several decades.