CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Amusements of America had its biggest day ever this year in the four-year history of the Charlotte Fair, according to Marco Vivona, owner/operator of the New Jersey carnival.
The event ran May 1-10 and had near-perfect weather, leading to a 25 percent increase in ride revenue. Attendance peaked on Saturday, May 9, resulting in record ride receipts, Vivona said.
The fair is always held over Cinco de Mayo, May 5, the international celebration of Mexico's independence. On that particular day, the midway drew big crowds as well with discounted gate admission and a $15 hand stamp good for unlimited rides. Otherwise, patrons paid $25 for a handstamp. The carnival also sold individual ride tickets.
Veteran fair promoter Larry Linton produced the event. Amusements of America's first unit set up about 40 rides and attractions. In addition, there was a motorcycle act, Bunky Boger's petting zoo, Bohm's Family Magic Show, a highwire pirate show, helicopter and monster truck rides and a special appearance by cast members of Lizard Lick Towing, a television reality show.
Angela's Pizza, owned by Ziggy Viseusi, made a return appearance to the Charlotte Fair. During a visit to the pizza trailer, Ben Ramey, former ride superintendent with Amusements of America, was helping Viseusi serve pizza to midway patrons. Ramey runs his own Guess Your Weight scales operation and books with Wade Shows, Strates Shows and North American Midway Entertainment, in addition to the Big A. He also builds model rides.
Independent concessionaires Dale Bush, Larry Hampton and Patty Thomas had games set up in Charlotte. During the fair, the carnival signed a three-year extension with Linton through 2018, Vivona said.
From Charlotte, the first unit headed north to the Chesapeake (Va.) Jubilee, followed by Celebrate Fairfax, the State Fair Meadowlands and a fair at the RFK Stadium parking lot in Washington. The carnival returns to RFK after an absence of about six years. Mark Lovell promotes the Capital Fair.
Another new date for this season is a horse show in Murfreesboro, Tenn., right after the Ohio State Fair, an event booked by Robbie Vivona, Marco's cousin. Otherwise, the route is steady, including several county and district fairs including the Eastern Carolina Agricultural Fair, Oct. 13-17 in Florence, S.C., where the show's winter quarters are situated. It's also where Marco calls home.
"I love it there, it's so nice and peaceful," said Vivona, who grew up in Miami. "We've been playing the [fall] fair for 50 years in Florence, so they treat us like a movie star. We've been there for seven years now and have lots of friends. The schools are good and the people are nice."
The show started in January with its typical slate of church festivals in Broward County, Florida, followed by an event in Florence to further get the kinks out before hitting the road for balance of the season with early dates in Boiling Springs, N.C. and Mount Pleasant, S.C.. Dominic Vivona, Marco's father who is now 83, lives in Mount Pleasant, which is next to Charleston on the Atlantic Coast.
To date, the season has been up and down with lots of rain, but good weather brings solid business, as was the case in Charlotte, Marco Vivona said.
The family bought some new equipment in the offseason, including a new Kamikaze and two new Gull Wing generators, a double-trailer unit containing 250 and 500 kilowatt machines. The show also purchased 12 used semi tractor trailers and two new bunkhouses. The second unit, operated by Morris Vivona, Jr. and his father Morris Sr., bought six new tractor trailers. Last summer, they purchased a used Rock & Roll from a show in Pennsylvania.
Over the winter months, Amusements of America suffered some bad luck with its Giant Wheel in the country of Peru. For the second year, the show shipped equipment to EvenPro Park, a two-month event in Lima and a distance of 2,500 miles from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,from where the rides were loaded for the long trip.
Unfortunately, the wheel was damaged while it sat on two trailers on a boat waiting for the return trip home from Peru, Vivona said. The ride recently arrived at Chance Manufacturing's plant in Wichita, Kan. to assess and repair the damage. In the meantime, Amusements of America has a Giant Wheel on loan from Belle City Amusements.
Part of the problem with shipping rides to Latin America is there is no direct route to a destination after vessels pass through the Panama Canal, according to Vivona. In some cases, ships travel to China before they reach their intended destination, putting greater risk of damage to ride equipment, he said.
"There are not too many [shipping] options," Vivona said. "We have insurance but they just don't give you money."
Show officials were relieved to get 50 international workers from Mexico, including 35 ride operators. With all the federal litigation over the H2B visa program, some shows have been "capped out" and weren't getting the correct number of workers they had requested, Vivona said.
Those that work for the Big A have a new supervisor. Eric Munoz, a native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is responsible for all Mexican Nationals. He speaks Spanish and serves as the carnival's lead interpreter, providing a valuable service for the Vivonas.
Munoz keeps the internationals on their toes. A few years ago, the show did not have many people fluent in Spanish, leading to a lack of communication between those workers and company management. As a result, some internationals "got spoiled" and had a tendency to take advantage of the situation by not working as hard as they would with people understanding the language, Vivona said. That's all changed now with Munoz on board.
Overall, the Vivonas have few complaints over those workers. Several Mexican Nationals have specialized skills and it's just a matter of finding out what they're interested in doing for the carnival. For example, Emo Malave, a native of Puerto Rico, runs a crew of painters that work on equipment on the road compared with doing it at winter quarters. Painting a few rides over the course of the season helps reduce the workload in the offseason, Vivona said.
Separately, Dennis Travioli, another part-time worker, fills a similar handyman role. He does all the LED work on the rides, stopping by some of the bigger fairs to convert a few rides with the newer light packages.
As with past years, the show deals with an ongoing shortage of qualified CDL drivers to haul equipment. The first unit has just seven full-time drivers for 70 loads and uses firms such as Powersource Transportation to provide additional drivers. "Some of those guys have been driving for us for a long time," Vivona said.