Windy City Amusements' Tony Salerno Jr. sat down at a restaurant he was very familiar during the recent St. Charles (Ill.) Riverfest.
Salerno's on the Fox, an Italian restaurant on the Fox River in the Chicago suburb, is owned by Adam Salerno, Tony's cousin. Windy City's carnival was set up about 200 feet from the restaurant, which enabled Tony Salerno to keep an eye on the show while he enjoyed dinner and watched the Chicago Blackhawks' playoff game on television.
This year, Salerno feels even more comfortable that he can step away from the lot for a short time and know that his operation is in good hands. For 2013, Windy City Amusements hired international labor, which has proved to be one of the best moves the carnival has ever made, according to Salerno.
Working through the same channels as Murray Bros. Amusements, whose principals include Debbie Murray, Tony's sister, Windy City hired about a dozen Hispanic employees from Mexico. Early in the season, Salerno is impressed with their hard work ethic, something often missing in the domestic labor pool, he said.
"It's the best thing that's ever happened in terms of getting quality help," Salerno said. "They never stop working, they never complain. They want to work.
"I don't like to give tips to my competition but I would recommend [foreign labor]. Don't get me wrong, I'm pro-American ... but so many times you can not depend on local help. You have to chase them around town to get them to work. With the international crew, they're always saying, 'We need more work.'"
For them, the quality of life working for a carnival in the U.S. is better than what they experienced back home in Mexico they told Salerno. Windy City pays the group about $10 an hour and gives them temporary housing in some apartment buildings the Salerno family owns in Chicago's northwest suburbs. The workers are not charged for their living quarters, Salerno said.
Next year, Windy City will try to get 15 international workers, an increase of three over this year's total, he said.
As the season nears the midway point, the show is fighting its way through the weather in Chicagoland. In the Midwest, where the weather can often be unpredictable in late spring, the temperatures can be 80 degrees during the week before dipping 30 degrees on the weekends, Salerno said.
The show runs two to three units and sticks to spots within 50 miles of its home base in St. Charles. A new date is the DeKalb Corn Fest, which Windy City has played in the past.
The carnival purchased a new KMG Freak Out, a super-spectacular piece that has become a popular high-end attraction for many shows. Windy City ordered it during last year's IAAPA show and expects delivery from the Netherlands manufacturer by May of next year, Salerno said. It costs about $750,000, depending on the value of the Euro dollar, he said.
The six machines that dispense automated tickets and are equipped with ATMs that Windy City bought from Uni-Glide last year for $150,000 have paid for themselves, Salerno said. The show has two trailers with three machines mounted on each unit. The carnival saves money by not having to pay an operator to sell tickets, he said.
Windy City's ride prices are $1 a ticket with two to five tickets required per ride depending on the attraction. The show runs $20 armband specials for four hours, sometimes twice a day, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
As a show that has been in business almost 40 years, Windy City has several long-term relationships with some of the biggest festivals in Chicago. The carnival splits its July 4 events between festivals in Palatine and Crystal Lake. The village of Palatine runs one of the biggest fireworks shows in the region.
The DeKalb fest runs over Labor Day weekend. Separately, Windy City has another unit set up in Lake in the Hills during the final summer holiday.
Trucking is another issue tied to finding quality help and Windy City outsources with a firm that provides drivers to help the show move on the weekends. Show officials have found that it is more efficient to have its primary crew focus on operating rides and not have them take on the additional burden of driving commercial vehicles after working a full day on a Sunday. It's a safety issue, Salerno said.
"It's worth it. There is less damage to the rides with more experienced drivers handling the loads," he said.
Most of the Salerno family is involved with the show, including Tony and his brothers Mike and Mark Salerno. They each run a unit. Their parents, Tony and Ruth, remain active as well. Tony Salerno Sr., who just turned 83, goes to the gym every day to get a workout and always wants to know where the money is on Monday, his son joked.
Ruth still works in the land-based office in St. Charles.
Tony Jr's. three daughters, though, are in school and have no interest in the carnival business which is OK with their father. Kristina wants to be a teacher, Tiffany is studying to be a chef and Sam is playing professional football in Chicago in an all-women's league.
Windy City's core group of employees includes Rusty Humphrey, head ride superintendent; his wife, Heather, the show's food manager who is also in charge of the ATM machines; and Jeff Lowell, assistant ride superintendent. The first unit office is managed by Denise Weinman, who has been with the company since it began in 1977 and plays an important role in keeping operation running smoothly on a daily basis. Tony's wife Karen and Mark's wife Cheryl juggle all three units' paperwork with regard to payroll, insurance and advertising. Mark Salerno's son Adam, is a ride superintendent on the second unit.
Independents include Jimi Johnson, a game concessionaire who has been with the show for about five years, Salerno said.
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