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Monday, July 21, 2008 3:40:57 AM 

Carnival barkers' pleas fall on frugal ears at Orange County Fair
Attendees reluctant to part with cash

Times Herald-Record
July 21, 2008

TOWN OF WALLKILL — The showmen of the Orange County Fair wait in their empty gaming booths flush with balloons, stuffed animals and other prizes, with no one there trying to win them.

They wait for passersby to sweet-talk into playing a game of chance, and put money in their pocket.

Their waits are longer this year. It's been this way for the past couple of years, says Mike Ludowise, who runs the Mini Hoops game — sink a basket, win a prize.

"If the locals don't have money," Ludowise says, "we don't get paid."

Even the simple pleasures of a fair are not immune from a struggling economy that has shrunk folks' wallets.

Games of chance or rides? Rides or carnival food? These are choices Michelle Danko of Monticello, here at the fair with three nieces and a nephew Sunday, has to make.

"We would have played a lot more (games)," Danko says. "We skipped a couple of rides; you can't keep spending money."

But at least the Orange County Fair is close to home — a trip down to the Jersey Shore beaches is about as far as the family will go this summer. "It's just too expensive to go further," Danko says.

The showmen know all about costly travel. It cost Joe Stephens $1,200 in diesel fuel to haul his Skee-Ball rig up here from his home near Orlando, Fla. He wonders if he'll make enough to cover his fuel costs as he works the fair circuit over the next 10 months.

"Everyone's worried," says Stephens, 61, who's been in the carnival game since 1978. "If fuel prices keep rising, a lot of people will park their rigs. There are carnivals closing all over the place."

Still, he says he'll put in another five years.

"It's who you are," says Ludowise, who used to sneak out to carnivals from a Catholic orphanage in Miami as a kid and worked his first fair in South Dakota 22 years ago.

Finally, he's got a player in his booth: 8-year-old Kevin Alvarado of Monticello. Alvarado hands him a dollar and Ludowise hands him a basketball.

Alvardo misses his first shot. Ludowise hands him the ball again. Swish.

"Winner! Winner!" Ludowise shouts, ringing a cowbell.

Alvarado points to a blue, stuffed bulldog. Ludowise hands it to him with a grin.

The boy walks off with his prize, leaving the showman alone in his empty booth to wait.

"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." - Lao-Tsu

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase." - Martin Luther King Jr.

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." - Robert F. Kennedy
Monday, July 21, 2008 9:30:31 AM
Food prices are really eating into it here, the cost for rides hasn't increased drastically here, but the cost of food has. On any given midway here its usually 3-4$ per item (cotton candy, ice cream, etc) and thats being generous, other events charge 7-8$ just to get one sandwich or one item, soda and drinks are well over 2$ a bottle or cup. With food prices rising (people have to eat at the fair if they are spending all day) something has to be squeezed and games are first on the list. People are still spending here but they are spending on food, drinks and rides, and not the games.