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Skinners Amusements forced with finding a replacement for Labor Day
Show adds new Zero Gravity for 2013
By Don Muret
Change is in the air as Skinners' Amusements kicks off its 103rd season May 1 in northern Illinois.
One of the carnival's biggest dates, On the Waterfront in Rockford, Ill., a Labor Day festival that drew up to 300,000 attendees during its heyday, has ceased to exist.
Facing considerable debt of $345,000, festival officials made the decision in December to end the event, according to local reports. Skinners' played the festival every year since it started 30 years ago.
The decision came as a big surprise to Pat Skinner, the show's co-owner who knew little about the festival's dire situation until she read about the end of its run in a local newspaper. The carnival used to set up a big midway at the festival with two lots set up on both sides of the Rock River
More than anything, though, Skinner said she felt badly about the dozens of nonprofit groups who worked the festival's food stands every year and relied on that revenue to help keep their organizations afloat.
"It was a fun event with great exposure for our show," she said.
The carnival has found a date to replace On the Waterfront but Skinner, always wary of the fierce competition for dates among Chicago-area shows, declined to disclose the location.
The good news is Skinners' three county fairs remain intact despite the economic woes facing all special events, she said.
The Lake County Fair in Grayslake, Ill., for example, a date the show has played for 50 years, switched sites a few years ago and has struggled with changes in leadership, but the carnival remains committed to the event.
The McHenry and Boone county fairs fill out Skinners' fair route in late summer.
Last year, consumer spending on the midway remained on par or increased marginally compared with 2011,which is not a bad thing considering the economy in recent years, Skinner said.
The show purchased a new Zero Gravity ride at the Gibtown trade show, an intermediate piece valued at $365,000. It should be delivered by Memorial Day, Skinner said. In addition, the carnival bought a new Gull Wing generator.
All told, Skinners' Amusements now owns about 30 rides and attractions.
The Skinner family is still going strong operating the show. Doug Skinner, Pat's husband, and their son, Doug Jr., have the mechanical expertise to ensure the show runs smoothly every week.
Renate Skinner, Doug Jr.'s wife, runs the funnel cake and corn dog trailer.
Pat and Doug's grandson, Jared While, 24, has assumed a greater role with the carnival after purchasing a few rides and helping to move equipment. His mother, Mary While, runs the pizza trailer.
Independent concessionaires Dale and Bev Downing manage the show's popcorn and cotton candy wagons. Peter, Paul and Clarence "Coach" Kasin have booked games for many years with Skinners' Amusements. Billy Thornberry also has games with the show.
Pat Skinner has decided against raising prices for individual ride tickets this season after last year's increase was not received well by certain events, she said. Instead, the show will increase the number of tickets required for each attraction.
The Skinner clan also said no to promoting the show through social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
"Renate and I talked it over and decided things were going well enough that we didn't need to do that," Skinner said.
Outside of the carnival business, Pat Skinner has a nephew playing this year for the Hickory Crawdads, a Class A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Connor Sadzeck, a 6-5 right-handed pitcher, was born in Crystal Lake, Ill., home of Skinners' Amusements. In his first two games, Sadzeck was 1-0 with seven strikeouts and a 3.48 ERA.