Known as a major player in the northeast, Gillette Shows of Pittsfield, MA, has been around since 1947 and has become a successful, family-run business with matriarch Betty Gillette at the helm.
The company plays shows in and around Pennsylvania, New York and New England as well as several other states.
The business had an interesting start.
“Our show, like most, had a very humble beginning, which started soon after World War II,” shares Gillette. “My husband's brother Art had a burning desire to buy a Merry-Go-Round, despite never having been in the business before. He sent my husband Jules to look at one for sale somewhere in Virginia,” she continues. “Jules bought it and the fellow that sold it had just bought a dump truck and offered to drive it to Pittsfield, where he dumped it in their mother's front yard. The horses were in pieces – heads, legs, tails. They separated them in bushel baskets and carried them to their mother's cellar.”
Despite the show's seemingly unceremonious beginnings, it has now evolved into a very successful endeavor.
Depending on location, Gillette Shows features 18 to 22 rides in the spring at its venues. When the business plays bigger dates and locations, Gillette says there may be up to 30 rides on the midway and there are sometimes two units as well.
Some of the rides featured regularly on the midway are the Cliff Hanger, Flying Bobs, Gravitron, Sea Dragon,Typhoon, Cobra, Scooter, Super Slide, Galleon Race, Rainbow Rocks, Tilt-A-Whirl and The Twist. Children's rides include the Train Station, Hot Rod Cars, Motorcyle Jump and Convoy.
“The quality of our rides may be better than most,” Gillette says. “Some of the most beautiful rides we carry are the Grand Carousel (Chance), the Rock and Roll (Bertazzon) and the Air Force 1 (Technical Park). Most recently the company added a state-of-the-art LED package to the Century Wheel.
Safety is a priority when it comes to the rides and the general setup of Gillette Show's midway. The show maintains year-round compliance with all state, local and federal agencies. Rides are also inspected weekly by state inspectors as well as daily by the staff members.
For snacking options, food offered on a Gillette Show's midway includes snow cones, lemonade, ice cream, fried dough, fresh cut french fries, milk shakes and pizza. Some of the midway games guests can enjoy include water gun fun, mash a mouse, lucky duck, dozers, crazy ball, Hi-Strikers and a fishing hole game.
The family works together to make the business successful.
Gillette oversees operations and her sons Jerry and Jules, as well as their families, help take care of setup and running of the show.
“I am a mom that happens to be in the carnival business, with a job to do to help provide the best life for our boys as we possibly could,” she says of how she has felt about the course of her career.
Jules handles all the equipment and his wife Denise is a concession manager and oversees a lot of the office work. Gillette says that Jules is in charge of keeping things running and looking good, and also works on the transportation end of things, making sure to get the equipment off the lot. His son, Alex, a recent college graduate, is his right-hand man, Gillette adds, and is happy to work with the business full-time. “Their daughters Rachel and Caroline will be joining after graduation from high school and middle school,” Gillette says. “All the girls perform some office duties and work food concessions.”
Additionally, Jerry runs the office and helps to get the equipment on location. His son Regan is also his right-hand man, and Gillette says that he has been a huge help since younger son Reece is graduating from high school and is involved with sports.
When Jerry needs to attend Reece's events, Regan covers for him. Jerry's daughter Lexia will also help with the show this season.
Gillette says that another son Arthur, and his wife, Christine, help with the shows as well.
The company has its winter quarters in Pittsfield, which comes complete with a repair shop. The family also owns a bowling alley, purchased in 1991, which they maintain in the off-season, since the carnival has never gone south during the winter. Jerry also runs the bowling center with his wife, Heather.
Despite the fact that the season has kicked off with a wet and dreary start, Gillette shares what she is hopeful for this season ahead. “There are many things we are grateful for,” she says. “Great family, fairs and celebrations represented by people that are a pleasure to do business and work with.” She adds that she is grateful JKJ Workforce has sent along another group of terrific workers for the season. Keeping the company name in high regard is important.
“We always try to do a good job, we are considerate of our customers, our workers and the people we do business with,” she says.
She adds that she hopes the company can stay successful in the future. As long as families are interested, she says, the show will go on.
Upcoming Gillette Shows venues include Afton Fair, Hilton Firemans Carnival, Hemlock Fair and Broome County Fair, July, in New York; Herkimer County Fairy in New York, and Cummington Fairy and Spencer Fair in Massachusetts, in August; Sterling Fair, Tunbridge Fair and Cumberland Fair in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine in September; and Sandwich Fair and Coveside Carnival in New Hampshire and Connecticut in October.