RALEIGH, N.C. --- Frank Zaitshik admits the pressure was on his carnival during its first year running the midway at the Great New York State Fair.
Michigan-based Wade Shows, owned and operated by Zaitshik, took over in Syracuse in 2014 after Strates Shows played the event for more than 70 years.
It was big news in upper New York state. New Yorkers are passionate about the fair and "it felt like we were under a magnifying glass," Zaitshik said. "New Yorkers are a tough audience, but the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. We were treated well by the press."
The Syracuse Post-Standard in fact, the city's daily newspaper, listed the midway among the top five reasons why the state fair was truly "great" in living up to its title, he said.
The successful run came after the fair management and Wade Shows made the decision to implement a Dollar Day midway promotion on Labor Day, which fell on Sept. 1 this year.
The fair's last day has traditionally been soft in Syracuse and show officials felt by charging $ for admission, $1 for every ride and selected food and games it would help boost fair attendance as well as midway revenue.
They were right. The fair set an all-time single-day attendance record on Labor Day after 122,870 patrons passed through the gates. That number broke the previous gate record of 120,617 set two days earlier on Saturday, Aug. 30.
Total fair attendance was 965,147, up 113,990 over the 2013 fair.
In addition, Wade Shows' ride gross on Labor Day was $223,360, way up over last year's $96,384 total on the same day. For the entire fair, ride revenue was up 30 percent over 2013, according to Zaitshik.
This year, due to the Dollar Day promotion with heavy volume expected, the gates opened at 9 a.m. on Labor Day and the decision was made to close the fair early at 9 p.m.
The midway itself shut down ticket boxes at about 7 p.m. in the midst of a packed crowd, Zaitshik said. At 8 p.m., midway supervisors and state police began spreading the word among customers that everything would be closed one hour later.
"There wasn't a need to stay open any longer," he said. "The great thing is, although there were some concerns by law enforcement over a change in demographics, it was truly a family crowd. Everybody had their neck out on this one. It took a lot of courage [on the fair's part] to do that."
The real success of the Great New York State Fair came through advance sales, he said. The show pre-sold $20 armbands that were good for any day of the fair and more than tripled advance sales over the previous year. Mega Passes good for the entire fair sold for $70.
There were some glitches with Wade Shows' Fun Card electronic ticketing program, new to New York and some other spots this season. To resolve those issues, the carnival plans to increase its efforts in the future to educate both its employees and the nonprofit groups it uses to sell tickets.
"We had some rookie mistakes with people forgetting to activate the armbands and patrons would get denied [entrance to the rides] and told they must go to guest relations," Zaitshik said.
"It was baptism by fire," he said. "We did an awful lot of things right in New York and we also learned a lot of things that need to get better."
Here in Raleigh, Wade Shows made its 10th consecutive appearance at the North Carolina State Fair. After holding the contract on its own for one year, Wade has spent the past nine years supporting Powers' Great American Midways, which now holds the contract.
All told, Wade Shows set up 45 rides at one of the biggest midways in North America essentially split up into four large sections. Three of the carnival's four roller coasters were in operation, including the Comet II. The re-themed Wildcat made its Raleigh debut.
"To my knowledge, it's the only one that travels in the U.S.," Zaitshik said. "Jimmy Drew has one that stays at his park in Marietta, Ga."
Wade's fourth coaster, a spinning Zamperla piece and a recent acquisition, was not in North Carolina. Show officials were preparing to ship the ride to Puerto Rico for an extended run.
Outside of the coasters, the Majestic Charlie Chopper, Zamperla Happy Swing and ARM Rock Star, were also new to Raleigh.
Elsewhere, Wade Shows set records at the Oklahoma State Fair and Tulsa State Fair, where it completed its second year providing the midway for Murphy Bros. Expositions, the contract holder. Zaitshik's relationship in Oklahoma City dates to 1966 and his days working old Rod Link Shows.
"In both locations, we had the right combination of great fair management, the carnival and mostly good weather," he said.
As the season drew to a close, the show starts turning its attention to next year. One big new date circled in red is the Florida State Fair in Tampa. Wade Shows takes over the spot for the next three years after the fair ran an independent midway for the past several years.
The carnival is no stranger to Tampa. It's has been a part of the independent setup in past years but now for the first time it's in charge in 2015.
Come February, where will be lots of fresh changes including new canvas for all concessions carrying bright yellow, orange and "Wade Shows blue," Zaitshik said.
"There will be more of a consistent theme throughout the midway and increased security and a sheriff's command center," he said. "We're still in the process of booking rides."
The show is also focused on controlling expenses in 2015 after growing revenue through ride purchases this season. It's taking a look at revamping and consolidating its transportation system, which is "the single-biggest place to save money," he said.
Too many trucks are moving over the road and doubling back with no rides attached, Zaitshik said. The intent is to buy more larger trucks and scale loads to cut down on the cost of diesel gas and save money on vehicle maintenance expenses.
Last year, the carnival bought a dozen Ford and Dodge pickup trucks that use regular gas, which has led to a savings of $6,000 to $7,000 over their diesel-powered counterparts. They're used to pull children's rides and many of the show's 40 bunkhouses.
The show plans to buy more gas pickups for 2015.
"Gas-powered engines now have increased pulling power and the life of those engines is much longer," Zaitshik said.