CHARLOTTE, N.C. ---- Amusements of America is returning to familiar ground in Puerto Rico. The show is booking more equipment in the commonwealth than it has over the past seven years, according to carnival officials.
After two years of making long trips to Lima, Peru to stage carnivals and having some equipment damaged on the way back, show executives feel it's better to concentrate on Puerto Rico, which is a a bit closer to home, said Greg Inman, who helps manage Amusements of America's second unit.
The Vivona family, the show's owner, has lots of experience running carnivals in Puerto Rico over the past 20 to 30 years. Most recently, the Vivonas have booked a few pieces with Wade Shows on the Caribbean island over the past half-dozen winters, Inman said.
The Puerto Rico operation ramps up this week. La Feria -- The Park, the name of the event in San Juan, runs Dec. 2 through mid-January 2016. The location is in the parking lot of Hiram Bithorn Stadium, the country's national baseball park. Famma Events is the promoter partnering with the carnival.
Amusements of America sent 10 to 15 rides there, significantly cutting expenses. It takes a week to ship attractions from the Port of Jacksonville to Puerto Rico, a distance of about 1,270 miles. By comparison, moving rides pver the water to Peru, a 2,500-mile journey, can take up to a month with all the red tape involved in moving through the Panama Canal. For Inman, who lives in Miami, it's a two-hour flight to San Juan compared with six to seven hours to Lima.
While a piece of the show plays the Caribbean island, other rides will set up at church festivals in south Florida, running from Thanksgiving weekend through February.
The second unit's season officially ended after the completion of the Coastal Carolina Fair, Oct. 29 through Nov. 8 in Ladson, S.C. At that spot, the second unit, headed by Morris Vivona Jr., combined with the first unit for the one and only time during the 2015 season. All told, the two units fielded more than 65 rides in Charleston before splitting up again in Florida and for the islands, Inman said.
At the Queen City Fair here, it was the second time the carnival as a whole passed through Charlotte in a span of less than six months. The dates were Oct. 16 through 25 at the Metrolina Expo Center. Amusements of America works with promoter Larry Linton, who also produces the Charlotte Fair over Cinco de Mayo in early May. The carnival's first unit, run by Marco Vivona, plays the spring date.
The second unit set up about 30 rides for the fall date in North Carolina's largest market. The show ran a $25 pay-one-price ride promotion for the duration of the event. In addition to the rides, event officials booked a petting zoo, motorcycle stunt riders and a small circus. The show was up in revenue for the fall date after experiencing a record run in the spring, officials said.
In general, the spring was unusually strong for the second unit, which plays several church fests early in the season, some of which have been Vivona mainstays for the past 40 years. Typically, the weather doesn't always cooperate in March and April but it wasn't bad in 2016, Inman said. The unit kicks off the season in Washington and works its way north to Delaware and into New Jersey, where its corporate headquarters are in Englishtown.
By mid-July, the show starts to hit its peak by playing five county fairs in New York state. Those events include the Clinton County Fair in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Reithoffer Shows previously held the contract at that fair before giving it up after landing the New Mexico State Fair, Inman said. The four other fairs are Saratoga County, Franklin County, Columbia County and the three-day Niagara Peach Festival in Lewiston, an old North American Midway Entertainment spot.
In North Carolina, the show plays the Lenoir County Fair in Kinston; Onslow County Fair, Jacksonville; and the Rocky Mount Fair before hitting the road for the 225-mile ride southwest to Charlotte. In early October, the Onslow County Fair got shut down for the last three days by Hurricane Joaquin, which hurt the carnival's business. Lenoir County was somewhat of a washout as well.
"The fall has been unusually tough this year," Inman said.
Outside of the weather, carnival officials have no qualms with the economy. People were spending money up north and things looked promising until the show came south and Joaquin and the affects of the storm ruined several days on the midway, he said.
Lower fuel costs have helped with moving the carnival this year and the show has been able to hire trucks at a cheaper rate, which also helps boost the bottom line. At the Queen City Fair, those savings were realized in filling up two large generators every other day, he said. In October, diesel costs were down to the $2 a gallon range.
The second unit mostly held the line on new ride purchases with the exception of the Chaos, a re-themed Fireball made by Technical Park. There's a new LED light package on the 1,001 Nachts and a fresh vinyl wrap on the YoYo. The Vivonas also purchased a new fleet of trucks. Next year, a new bunkhouse could be among the potential buys, Inman said.
The carnival gets strong support from some veteran independent ride owners. Rio Cristiani books his dark ride, fun house and Safari train with the show. Taylor and Sons, an outfit based in Annapolis, Md., provides bumper cars, a slide, a Paratrooper, Dizzy Dragon and Super Truck. Cristiani splits his time between the first and second units.
"It's been a long season ... and [those weeks impacted by the hurricane] drained the life out of us," Inman said.
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