Day three of the IISA Super Extravaganza and Trade Show finally saw some sunshine. While not exactly hot, the weather was a welcome break from the cool temperatures and gusty winds of the first two days.
MCW was very happy to see Morris Vivona, the oldest working showman in the business cruising around the grounds. Vivona is 95 years old and still very active. Vivona's wife Ethel recently passed away after a series of health issues and the family is mourning her loss. Ethel Vivona was a forced to be reckoned with in the Vivona clan and she served as a mother figure for Vivona's four younger brothers.
Morris Vivona was accompanied by his son Morris Jr. and grandson Gregory Inman, both of whom run his unit of Amusements of America. Morris is the eldest of the three surviving Vivona brothers. Dominic and Phil Vivona are also still very active with the running of the show.
"Little Richard" Thomas
Another legendary showmen MCW had the opportunity to interview is Richard "Little Richard" Thomas. Thomas said this was his 50th trade show and the first where he missed opening day, due to health issues.
Thomas recalled how he used to sell trailers at the Schantz booth, selling over 250 trailers in his time with the company. It certainly helped that Thomas used the trailers in his thriving concession business so his opinion held a lot of credibility to prospective buyers. He calls Schantz "still the best trailer in the business".
Thomas got his start as a manager at a farmer's market in Pennsylvania. When one of the food guys with a french fry and ice cream stand put his business up for sale, Thomas bought him out. Thomas remembers selling ice cream in Lehighton, PA at the fair. Who sat right across from him with a competing ice cream stand but the previously mentioned Morris Vivona. Thomas said they battled for business but Vivona had a flair with the way he swirled the cones, something Thomas said he could never master.
Thomas later bought World of Mirth Shows in 1967. The show carried about 25 rides. He also bought a park in Asheville, NC.
One of the fairs on the World of Mirth route, Valdosta, was operated by Thomas for 25 years, even after the demise of the show. He said a nearby amusement park eventually hurt his business, forcing the closing of the fair.
Today, Thomas operates 12 trailers, opening in West Palm Beach and closing in Tallahassee, Fl. Stops in between include the Meadowlands Fair, Allentown, Pa and the South Carolina State Fair.
He is assisted in the business by son Robert Thomas, son-in-law Dave Higman and grandson Clint Yoder. Another son, Bobby, just opened a new restaurant, Little Richard's Lunch Box.
LJM & Associates
Luis Merz had a booth at the trade show marketing his company, LJM & Associates. The company, founded in 2004, took on a more prominent role in the business after another large safety consulting company, the Lundy Group, fell on hard times.
Wanting to keep the safety consultants and clients together, Merz began gathering many of the former Lundy Group consultants. According to Merz, those joining his new group include Avery Wheelock, Danny Abner, Dan Dudley, Dan Hankins and some new associates he is adding to his team.
LJM will provide risk management services for the amusement and sports industries, including carnivals, fairs, water parks, FECs, festivals and insurance carriers. The company will also conduct safety training sessions for organizations. They recently conducted an employee training seminar for Talley Amusements in Texas.
The company is currently in final negotiations to provide services to several fairs and events but they have inked a deal with the Alaska State Fair. They also retained a lot of the Six Flags amusement park business formerly held by the Lundy Group. Other amusement park clients include Palace Entertainment and Apex Parks.
Carnival clients include Golden Wheel Amusements, Myers Midways and Playworld Amusements. They also recently did some NDT inspections for Wade Shows at the Florida State Fair.
Luis Merz started in the industry in 1978 where he worked as a magician in a 10-in-1 side show for Tim Dermer. For three years he ran the gorilla show and then managed the 10-in-1 for 2 more years.
After his sideshow experience, he joined Megerle Shows and helped with rides and games. He started moving the show when he forged family ties, eventually marrying Lynn Moegerle. Even after his divorce from Lynn, Merz continued to work for the show, moving big rides and managing set up and tear down.
He eventually went on an independent route with the company's Enterprise ride, crisscrossing the country to play major events.
When a safety manager position with Strates Shows opened up, Merz jumped at the opportunity. He worked with the show for two years before being hired by the State of Florida as their first hire from the amusement industry. He was under a lot of scrutiny as hiring someone from within the industry was a controversial move for the state.
After a year at that position, opportunity came knocking again in the form of a job offer from American Specialty Insurance. Merz conducted the insurance company's inspections and further forged his prominent role in the amusement safety industry.
Merz continued on with American Specialty for four years before hanging out his shingle as an independent safety consultant.
Kevin and Sue Headley of A&A Attractions started their show in 1998 with 6 rides. The show moved with one tractor and one tank of fuel would last the entire season. They played around the Milwaukee area as well as two events in Illinois.
The rides the company started with include a Tilt, Whirly Bird, 2 Hamptons, Pony Cart and a bounce. Each year, they added new rides and expanded the route. They still play in Wisconsin and Illinois but have added a Sea Ray, Eli 16, Scat, Super Sizzler, Zipper and Gee Whiz.
The show travels from the end of April until the beginning of October. Glen Pulver and his wife Theresa operate the food stands; a pizza, sausage and funnel cake. Games are operated by the Headley family as well as Gordon and Melissa Sanders, the Pulvers' daughter.
The route includes county fairs, churches and community events, especially Lion's Club events, which Sue Headley appreciates for their efforts to hold a parade, host fireworks and make the event a true community celebration.
Stay tuned for coverage of Day 4 of the trade show including a report on KMG, Used Rides Europe and new ride company out of Europe with a familiar face.
2016 IISF Trade Show Coverage