Big Rock Amusements has upgraded its operation for 2013 with new lighting packages, rides, concessions and fencing.
Now if only the weather would cooperate down south, according to Matt McDonagh, the carnival's owner.
The show has been playing shopping centers in Georgia since mid-February in mostly cold and rainy conditions, McDonagh said. More still dates follow in Kentucky and Tennessee as the show moves north to play Michigan for most of the summer.
This year, Big Rock officials feel confident their customers will see a midway that has brightened considerably with new LED lights installed on the Expo wheel, Gravitron and Dragon Wagon.
McDonagh purchased the lights from Denny's Electronics and feels the upgrades give a whole new look and feel to the carnival's presentation.
"The light show is pretty spectacular," he said. "I can't believe the difference in the Ferris wheel."
In addition to the lighting improvements, Big Rock purchased a Venture Granny Bug kiddie ride, new fencing from Kevin Dalton, vinyl panels for the fences from Waterloo Tent, and 10 aluminum benches from Gautier Fabrication.
Big Rock also added a used sausage trailer from an independent operator in Ohio. The show owns all the food.
All told, the carnival made a sizable investment in the offseason although McDonagh could not say exactly how much capital was spent to improve the operation. The show now has a total of 24 attractions.
The carnival has been operating as Big Rock Amusements for three years now after McDonagh and his wife Kelly bought the old Jules and Beck Shows and acquired dates from the old McDonagh Amusements, the show Matt's family ran for more than 30 years.
All three carnivals have their roots in Michigan, where Big Rock plays the bulk of its season from May to September. The show plays six county fairs in the summer months, including a new date this year, the Lenawee County Fair in Adrian.
The show heads back south in the fall to play more fairs, booking equipment with Wade Shows in North Carolina and Strates Shows in Georgia, before heading to their winterquarters near Atlanta at season's end.
The McDonaghs believe building a quality show attracts the same level of employees. Big Rock's crew includes ride superintendents Justin Goodel, Dave Dwyer, Burt Porter, Andrew Preston and Mike Carl. Most of them date to McDonagh Amusements, McDonagh said.
The bad weather early in the season has made it a bit difficult to say whether the economy is in better shape. A clear sky brings the people out but McDonagh says his customers continue watching their money more closely than they did five to six years ago.
Regardless, last season was a good one, due in large part to the show constantly making improvements, he said.
"Things are going really well," McDonagh said.