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Cole Shows Amusement Company: All the way to the top


By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of RC Cole

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While being interviewed, owner R. C. Cole mischievously asked, "Will this make me into a celebrity?"  It turns out that, like other A-list celebrities, he has already made a White House appearance.  A few years back, Cole Shows Amusement Company was asked to "set up shop" at one of the world's most famous addresses:  1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

U. S. Congressional Picnic
During the Bush (President George W. and First Lady Laura) years, Cole Shows received a most unusual phone call. When R. C. picked up - after having spent a long and sleepless night working on equipment - he was told that this call was from the Social Office of the White House.

"Sure it is," R. C. thought to himself.  "Either my ears or my friends are playing tricks on me..."

He almost hung up the phone right thenPhoto By RC Cole and there.  Good thing he didn't.

The call was indeed from the White House.  Cole Shows was being honored with an offer to facilitate the U. S. Congressional Picnic - an honor well-earned and greatly appreciated.

R. C. confessed that he was "never so nervous in my life."  He added, "We have pictures with the Vice President and with Mrs. Bush - it was something else."

And then "something else" literally occurred...  R. C. explained that "somebody jumped the wall" during the event, which resulted in "automatic weapons seeming to appear from nowhere."

What then?  R. C. continued, "We all hit the deck and didn't quite know what would happen next.  So we all stood tight in the merry-go-round van and waited until the coast was clear."

Then it was "back to work" in no time.

Home Sweet Home
It must have felt good to return back home after all that excitement.  Especially when "home" is not just your company's base, but also the place where you were born and raised.  For R. C., this means Covington, Virginia - nestled in the Shenandoah Valley and surrounded by the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains.  Regarding this beautiful location, R. C. jokingly warned, "Don't ever set up in your home town.  You'll find you have a lot of friends you didn't know you had..." 

You might also find, as R. C. has, that a rural homestead provides the perfect setting for a building large enough to store all equipment.  He explained, "We don't park our stuff in the middle of the field and leave it there.  We store it indoors, which is one of the greatest investments we've ever made." 

R. C. continued, "Since we started putting things indoors, we've gone from getting three years out of a paint job to about eight.  The paint's very expensive now - a paint bill can run you about three- to four-thousand dollars a month.  We also have the luxury of being able to repair our own equipment.  It's convenient and cost effective."

Winter Carnival 
Who says that winter's harsh surprises and midways don't mix?  As R. C. pointed out, "People have cabin fever this time of year, so it can work out well."  All you have to do is move all the fun indoors.

"Indoors" this year meant the Civic Center in Salem, Virginia.  From January 23rd through the 26th, families had the great opportunity to attend Cole's Kids Winter Indoor Carnival.  R. C. reported, "We took about 14 kiddie rides and catered pretty much to ages 12 and under."

On Thursday and Friday the carnival ran from 6 to 9 PM, on Saturday from 10 AM to 9 PM, and on Sunday from 12 Noon to 6 PM.  Admission was free, and ride tickets were a dollar apiece (or progressively cheaper if purchased in larger quantities).

Meeting Challenges and Squelching Rumors
Of course, not even the carnival business is all fun and games.  R. C. stated that he had been "one of the few" using the J1 visas.  A few years ago, with only two weeks left before these workers were supposed to arrive, R. C. found out that they couldn't come because of new legislation that was passed.  He lamented, "We were 13 or 14 short that year, but we got through it somehow."

R. C. continued, "The next year, we had a lot of H2B Mexican workers.  That worked out very well - out of 13 workers, there was only one that wasn't up to par.  But it's getting harder and harder - there's so much more paperwork now, and even this might be coming to an end soon."

Regarding the new health-care legislation, R. C. added, "I'm not large enough for it to affect me severely, but some guys might need it - the jury's still out."  He then emphasized, "The rumor is that we're for sale, and we're not.  We're as strong as ever, and are looking forward to a big year.  Plus, I'm going on a trip this weekend to renew two five-year contracts."  The future is looking real bright.

Making It Possible
R. C. also expressed gratitude for so much excellent teamwork throughout the years.  He mentioned a host of wonderful colleagues - among them J. R. Roark ("an all-around guy who does whatever needs doing and has been here 25 years"), the Zitterich family ("who've been here over 20 years and have concessions with us"), Joy Putnam ("has kept everything going in the office and behind the scenes for about ten years"), and many others.  Family, too, has been integrally involved.  The company began with R. C.'s father, who had first been in the wholesale glass business.  When he noticed how much glassware the State Fair folks were buying, he figured that the carnival business was where the money was. 

The Cole family has been going strong ever since those early days when R. C. would "pick up nickels from the glass floor."  He is now lifting way more than nickels. He is picking up people's spirits with each and every event. 

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