Windy City Amusements has seen an uptick in business this year despite an act of vandalism that threatened the carnival's business earlier this summer.
The St Charles, Ill. show has experienced good weather for the most part this season after a very rainy 2011 that made it tough to make money at the suburban Chicago festivals that are the carnival's bread and butter. "The spring was good to us and the summer has been hot," said owner/operator Tony Salerno.
Outside of the weather, Windy City had to contend with an ugly incident in mid-June that had Salerno scrambling to get the show open on time. The carnival was set up in Oswego when vandals cut wiring, slashed the tires on the Pharaoh,s Fury and stole parts off the ride, he said.
The extent of the damage indicates "somebody knew what they were doing," Salerno said. Nobody with the carnival witnessed the incident, so Windy City officials could not say with 100 percent certainty that it was a competitor intent on sabotaging their operation, he said.
The setback did not deter Windy City. The carnival quickly pulled everybody together that day, repaired the damage and did not miss its opening. Luckily, there were enough spare parts on hand. "It only made us look better to the festival," Salerno said.
Windy City officials have posted a $10,000 reward for information about the perpetrators. In addition, Crime Stoppers has provided $10,000 on its own, Salerno said. "We want to get the word out. Maybe somebody knows something and will come forward," he said.
This year, the carnival decided not to purchase new rides until after the election in November, Salerno said. "We will wait to invest." With no new attractions, Windy City has swapped a few rides between the first and second units to keep the lineups fresh for their events.
Windy City brought out a third unit eight times this year to accommodate extra dates on the route.
The third unit proved to be a challenge with labor "hard to control," Salerno said. "We hired a few international workers in the past but they left as soon as they arrived."
Those workers that are dependable recognize there are "no jobs out there," he said.
The carnival has put renewed emphasis on safety this year, installing signs that provide safety tips such as "Be Wise, Check Your Size" for kids that may be borderline for height requirements.
In addition, Windy City bought six ATM/ticket machines from Uni-Glide, essentially a "giant ticket box" with an automated teller machine in the middle that accepts cash and credit cards to purchase tickets, Salerno said.
The $150,000 investment has paid off, reducing the need for conventional ticket boxes, which results in fewer volunteers required by the events, he said.
Last year, the carnival purchased a new 450-kilowatt silent generator that has helped save on fuel costs for a more efficient operation.
In another energy saving measure, Windy City is going through the process of installing LED lights on its larger rides. The initial cost to equip a ride such as a Ferris Wheel is not cheap but it should pay off in the long run through fuel savings, Salerno said.
A bright spot this season has been the addition of independent game concessionaire Jimi Johnson with the first unit. Johnson has booked with several shows in the past and plays with a few carnivals down south after Windy City comes off the road at the end of October.
Windy City is looking for a "first class" game operation to travel with the second unit for the 2013 season, Salerno said.
In a market where competition is fierce to retain dates, the carnival has enjoyed long-tem relationships with several festivals. Events in Sycamore, Lake Forest, Vernon Hills, Palatine, Antioch and Lindenhurst have all been tied to Windy City for the past 20 to 30 years, Salerno said.
Tony's father, Tony Salerno Sr.,is 82 years old and has been in the carnival business for 50 years. "He's our bag man," the junior Salerno joked. "He goes to the bank and has cookies and milk while they count the money."
Click here to view photos of Windy City Amusements from the 2012 season