SHELBY, N.C. --- Pat Reithoffer is ready to put some fresh ideas to work next year at the Cleveland County Fair.
This year's fair dates were Sept. 26-Oct. 6. The event was founded in 1924 and remains one of the oldest county fairs in the country. Reithoffer Shows' Orange Unit has been along for the ride for about 35 years, including last year's fair, marred by a breakout of the E Coli virus that left one child dead and several others violently ill. The incident was tied to a petting zoo and had nothing to do with the carnival midway.
The fair changed managers after last year's event, hiring Bobby Jenks, a veteran food concessionaire. Jenks previously booked with Reithoffer, among other shows. Jenks' carnival experience should help grow business over the next several years, according to Reithoffer. The two parties planned to sit down after the fair and discuss some new promotions to get more people through the gates and generate more revenue.
"In this economy, you have to promote," Reithoffer said. "You're not going to get the same crowd with the same ticket prices. Bobby does a lot of independent work and now that he is the fair manager he's going to be good at it. He knows what it takes. Gate discounts help. Maybe let people in the first hour for free. We need to experiment, can't just sit still. It's like baseball, if you don't swing you can't get a hit."
Reithoffer Shows already does what it can to drum up interest for the fair by selling $20 unlimited ride passes at Walgreens, something it has been doing for three years now. Customers can use the MegaPass any day of the fair. "It's the only rain insurance we have," Reithoffer said.
The carnival ran a $10 ride special on the Tuesday of fair week that flooded the midway, he said.. The show took in less money but the vendors had a good day on what is typically one of the slowest days of the fair.
On Sunday, Oct. 6, the final day of the fair, adult admission was $4, half price of the regular $8 fee.
"It takes all of us to make a good fair," Reithoffer said. "You have to throw out a bargain to give people a reason to show up."
The show set up 45 rides in Shelby, including its new ARM Vertigo swing ride, Huss Tornado and the "Dutch" Wheel made in the Netherlands. Reithoffer's newly refurbished Arctic Blast, meanwhile, was set up at the Georgia National Fair in Perry. Reithoffer's son, also named Pat, was running the piece with the Blue Unit in Georgia.
Independent ride owner Mike Brotsky booked about a half-dozen kiddie rides at Cleveland County.
In other upgrades, Reithoffer installed new plastic wrap along the front side of several kiddie rides to create new scenes themed for those attractions. The wraps have bright colors and provide a an effective option to painting rides. "They last longer and stay brighter," Reithoffer said. "It's better than painting it."
The show's Big Wheel has a new LED light package on both sides done by Denny's Electronics. The lights operate on a 12-minute cycle creating different patterns best seen at night, Reithoffer said. The Orbiter, Carousel and Sizzler have also been equipped with LEDs. Next year, the Freak Out will go through the same conversion, he said.
Whether LEDs cut energy costs depends on which carnival owner you talk to but "if there is one day you can shut your generator off, that's a good day," Reithoffer said.
The show is developing its own cashless midway system in Fort Lauderdale using radio signals and it could be implemented for next season, he said.
Overall, the season has been a wet one starting with snow in April in northern Virginia followed by what felt like rain every day in June, Reithoffer said.
After Shelby, the Orange Unit headed to the Piedmont Interstate Fair in Spartanburg, S.C., to be followed by the Western Carolina State Fair in Aiken, S.C. and the National Peanut Festival in Dothan, Ala., the final spot of the season.
The Blue Unit, run by Rick Reithoffer, Pat's brother, picked up one new date this year, the Coastal Empire Fair, Oct. 31-Nov. 10 in Savannah, Ga.
Nothing has changed much regarding fuel prices. The high cost of diesel continues to eat into profits, Reithoffer said.
Help has been good though. Reithoffer Shows employs 30 Hispanics through international labor services and they are all hard working kids, he said.
Reithoffer's full-time crew includes several long-time employees. Nick Alberts is the general manager and Greg Nelson is concessions manager. Ryan Reithoffer, another one of Pat's sons, and Tom Popovich Jr. are ride superintendents. Jack Storza runs the office with Pat Reithoffer's sister, Jan. Bern Soprano runs the shop on the road with Vern Klein and Rusty Douglas.