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EK Fernandez Shows has deep roots in Hawaiian show business
Hawaii's only traveling carnival

8/7/2013

By Don Muret

Photo courtesy of

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For carnival owners stateside who feel like crying the blues over crappy weather and high fuel costs, consider what it takes for EK Fernandez Shows to run a traveling show in Hawaii.

Everybody in the industry knows the biggest cost for a carnival is picking it up and moving it. For the Fernandez family, celebrating its 110th anniversary this season, it costs about $180,000 round trip to ship 15 to 18 rides on a pair of 225-foot-long barges from its home base in Oahu to Kauai, said Scott Fernandez, the carnival's owner.

Scott is the son of the late Kane Fernandez and took over the business after his father died in 2001. Scott's grandfather, Edwin Kane Fernandez, for whom the show is named, founded the business in 1903.

The show plays three of the eight islands that make up America's 50th state and some communities hPhoto By ave less than 5,000 residents. In addition to Oahu and Kauai, the carnival plays Maui. The remaining five islands are largely uninhabited, Fernandez said.

Most of its events are in Honolulu, the state's capital city. Due to the makeup of the islands, the most isolated land mass in the world, sometimes events are far and few between for the carnival. On the plus side, it gives the show time to repair rides, Fernandez said.

And to top it off,  it's been raining in paradise this summer, prompting show officials to add an unofficial "insurance weekend" at the tail end of the Hawaii State Fair in Honolulu. The fair typically takes place over six weekends starting in late May through the end of June.

"It's been wet which is unusual for Hawaii," Fernandez said. "Normally it's wet in the winter but we've been fighting the rain. We came out even. A couple of weekends it rained all the time. We only play weekends at the state fair. Per caps were up though which is the real measure of anything and what we all strive for. Next year we will probably sit there seven weeks for sure. The budget will go up though."

In another twist for the island operation, the carnival produces the state fair on its own with no associations or committees to lend a helping hand. The show sets up the buildings,bleachers and tents, books the entertainment and sells all the tickets for the state fair. It is a large undertaking, Fernandez said.

For this year's state fair, the carnival booked some major pieces from independent ride owners based in the 48 contiguous states. Michael Wood brought his Techno Power and Area 51 attractions and Tom McDonagh shipped his KMG Fun Factory. Last year, it was Playworld Amusements' Rave and Drop Tower that made the long trip to Hawaii. Wood, McDonagh and Playworld are based in Michigan. Wood, owner of Wood Entertainment, operates out of San Antonio.

50th State Fair"We are always looking for something new to book into the state fair," Fernandez said. "We try not to kill anybody with expenses and do what we can to offset some of those costs. The cost to ship a ride here from stateside  is also very expensive. For a Tilt, it can cost $30,000 round trip."

For an industry still misunderstood by the public, EK Fernandez Shows is treated like royalty in Hawaii, according to Fernandez. "There is no such term as 'carny' over here," he said. "It's like Christmas when we show up. Over 110 years we have instituted a quality brand and there is a level of love and respect from our customers."

The show owns about 25 rides and owns all the games and food. Ticket prices are $1.50 a ticket with two to four tickets collected for individual attractions. The carnival sells a $30 wristband good for 10 rides. There are no unlimited ride specials. Fernandez feels strongly that pay-one-price promotions are one of the most dangerous things in the business because it leads to careless behavior by the patron.

"They get [an unlimited ride] wristband all of a sudden they feel as if they are entitled to anything," he said. "You have a right to get on a ride without abusing that privilege. It's just like getting on an airplane. Those who display abusive behavior won't be allowed to fly on a plane. The same thing holds true for a carnival.

"The fair board doesn't back up a show, they side with the customer.  They are out there doing crazy things and acting inappropriately but it's good for the fair board because they think they have something to sell. We have told them 'It ain't happening.'"

Jungle TwistThe carnival bought a new Jungle Twist from Wisdom Industries as well as a Owens glass house, which is scheduled for delivery in September. Fernandez prefers simpler rides that operate efficiently and don't require a "NASA engineer" to figure out their operations, he said.

 "My thinking is you can't expect to experiment with new technology on a show owner," Fernandez said. "A factory designs a ride and hopes you can figure it out. It's a challenge for the industry. In general, the carnival is not an efficient model."

Most of the show's rides have been upgraded with LED lights. "It's the one thing that returns money," Fernandez said. "Our fuel costs go down because we don't need as many generators. We are going to sell some of our Caterpillars."

The carnival has a storied history in Hawaii. EK Fernandez was known as the "Barnum of the Pacific" for searching the world for the best acts and bringing them to his homeland. In the early part of the 20th century, he booked circuses worldwide and introduced the first automobile and motion picture camera to the islands. Fernandez would show films at the pineapple plantations and had another nickname, the "Movie Camera Kid."

In the 1970s, by the time Kane Fernandez and his wife Linda had taken over the show, the family developed a line of family entertainment centers called the Fun Factory and still own 30 in the U.S. and Canada. Linda Fernandez controls the indoor side of the family business.

Scott's younger sister, Shelly Katz, is involved in a carnival side business. She is president of BMI Merchandise, a novelty company.

"Everybody in our family grew up with the carnival," Fernandez said. "We ran our own games and saved our money and invested in college funds. There was always work. My mother fired me so many times I lost count. I like to surf and so many times I would sneak off when I was supposed to be helping the show."

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