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Skinners Amusements Celebrates 105th season
Show adds new Chance Zipper in 2015

7/29/2015

By Don Muret

Photo courtesy of Don Muret

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MUNDELEIN, Ill. ---- Skinners' Amusements showcased its shiny new Chance Zipper during Mundelein Community Days, an Independence Day festival in the north Chicago suburbs.

The Zipper is a standard attraction for many carnivals but Chance Manufacturing, the Wichita firm that makes the ride, focused its efforts of late on the theme park market, according to Doug Skinner Sr. The carnival's model is the first portable model Chance has produced in 14 years, said Skinner, the show's co-owner with his wife Pat.

The Skinner family considered other rides but the Zipper is one single attraction that all the event committees ask for when negotiating midway contracts, Pat said. At a cost of $700,000, it's the show's third new Zipper to debut over tPhoto By Don Murethe past few decades. 

They completed the purchase at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions show last November in Florida. It came with a factory-made LED light package, and for the most part, "everybody is real happy with it," Pat Skinner said. "It's a well-performing ride."  Doug Skinner said there have been some initial color scheme issues the family is working out with Chance officials to meet their satisfaction.

In addition, the show's Eli Bridge Eagle 16 wheel went through a complete refurbishment with new seats installed at a cost $20,000, Pat Skinner said. A new top on the bumper cars cost $10,000. Last year's new purchases included a Frog Hopper kiddie ride.

All told, the carnival has been doing business for 105 years. Mundelein Community Days, has been a mainstay on its route for about 30 years. Skinners' Amusements first booked equipment here with the old Dispensa & Sons carnival before eventually taking over the contract from their old partner. The town's American Legion post runs the celebration and has incorporated the Mundelein Munch, a food fest across the street, into its activities, Pat Skinner said. 

Peter Kasin, one of the show's independent game concessionaires, said his family has played the spot for 45 years dating to 1970 when his father Clarence "Coach" Kasin was in charge of the business. In honor of his father, Peter rolled out his dad's old one-ball game where players attempt to knock over three milk bottles. His twin brother Paul was nearby working his basketball game.

In addition to Kasin Concessions, Billy Thornberry booked a half-dozen games here, displaying some beautiful equipment, including a balloon pop, Skee-Ball, basketball and water gun attractions. All told, Skinners' Amusements had about 20 rides tucked into a lot in downtown Mundelein. The Beach Party fun house, Eli Wheel, Cliffhanger and Zero Gravity anchored a tight but impressive looking midway in this Lake County village.

Pat Skinner gave an interesting response when asked what else is new with the show. "Attitude," she said. "We try to get everybody to have a positive attitude. We're doing our best to instill that [mentally] in our workforce. We have meetings constantly to let our employees know to put a smile on their face.  We give them T-shirts, meals and transportation from our winter quarters [in Marengo, Ill.] to where we're at with our bunkhouses."

The show employs about 35 workers including part-timers. The number grows over county fair season in July and August. Here in Mundelein, there were 20 people working for the carnival specifically, including five swing workers who give the ride operators breaks, Pat Skinner said.

The carnival drew a nice crowd on Thursday, July 2, the first night of the festival supported by a special of $2 per ride. The Skinners made assurances that, pending weather conditions, the midway would be packed on the Fourth of July. For all Chicagoland shows, the holiday weekend brought sunny skies, the first without cold and rain since summer kicked in a few weeks earlier.

Other Chicago shows enjoying a busy Fourth were North American Midway Entertainment's All-Star unit in Arlington Heights; Fantasy Amusements in Mount Prospect; Windy City Amusements in Palatine; and Modern Midways, Hoffman Estates. 

As Skinners' Amusements has grown stronger over the years, so have the festivals it's played, Pat said. But each event has its own idiosyncrasies, she said. For example, for Mundelein Community Days, the carnival does not run wristband specials because event officials feel it can cause reckless customer behavior. So, the show runs straight ticket sales for the duration of the festival.

Elsewhere, wristbands are popular at the Lake Zurich Alpine Fest, and there are no issues with patrons taking advantage of the pay-one-price promotion. The same is true for Wauconda Fest, the event Skinners' played prior to Mundelein. At that event, officials allow customers to walk around with open containers of alcohol outside of the main beer tent. "That's the only one with the freedom to walk around [with beer]," Skinner said. "The others are self-contained."

As county fair season approaches, the show will make its annual appearance at the Lake County (Ill.) Fair. Skinners' Amusements has played the event since it started in 1928, including the past five years at its new location in Grayslake. It's taken awhile to build the fair back up again at its new spot, she said, but the good news is Camping World and Harley-Davidson have stepped up as new sponsors, she said. The carnival itself also donates money to fair causes.

The carnival's fair route extends to the McHenry County Fair in Woodstock, Ill., and the Boone County Fair in Belvidere, Ill.

Pat Skinner sees some changes coming on the horizon for the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs, the trade group representing the state's fairs and festivals. For the past 15 to 20 years, the association has held its annual January convention at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Springfield. But the hotel has a new owner and brought some new and unanticipated expenses to the table for the carnival to run its hospitality suite at the facility.

For this year's event, Skinners' Amusements had to buy its party supplies from the hotel directly, which charged $325 for a keg of beer and $80 for a bottle of whiskey, plus room expenses. Pat Skinner feels those charges were excessive, and with Bill Fugate retiring this past April as the group's secretary/treasurer, the association is seeking a new hotel to hold the convention.

"The problem is there is not another hotel in the area to fit all the county fairs," she said. "We may end up [at the same hotel] and cut it down to one night. It had been multiple nights."
















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