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COVID-19 RESOURCES & NEWS
Amusement Attractions: Building a Route of Small Fairs and Cashless Midways

Amusement Attractions is Open For Business
Amusement Attractions was able to reopen despite the ongoing pandemic that cancelled fairs and events throughout the industry. Fairgoers came out in Selmer, TN to support the show.

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Like most carnival companies, Amusement Attractions was shut down in March with the Pandemic. In what has become a familiar refrain, as spring turned to summer, the company watched their season implode as fair after fair cancelled. 

By August, as some states eased their lockdown and shelter-in-place protocols, the company cobbled together a route that included a variety of still-dates and smaller fairs, several booked within a short window of time. 

Small But Flexible

“We finally realized that we needed to do something,” said William Purdy, owner and founder. “We started with some food concessions, and then rides. We were able to open in Alabama with some still date locations, shopping centers and were able to open in Tennessee.”

Amusement Attractions was founded in 1992 by William and his wife Lisa, fourth and fifth generation midway providers, respectively. They operate the business with their sons Mason and Elliot, and an inventory of more than 50 rides. “We're a still a family business, but maybe being smaller we are more flexible and we needed that this year.”

To get a sense of how unusual a season it was – and how creative carnival companies needed to become – there seems no better example than the August/September route through western Tennessee. Purdy plays several of these fairs, typically smaller local events in rural communities. This year, staying true to the entertainment credo of the show must go on; Purdy rented the fairgrounds and set up the rides even after the fair board cancelled the event. 

Such was the case for the Dyersburg County Fair. In July the Dyer County Fair Association announced: “Due to the current global pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding it, our organization has decided to suspend the planning of our 2020 fair… Although the Dyer County Fair association will not be presenting a Fair in the 2020 season, we have leased the grounds to Amusement Attractions and Pope's Concessions, and they will be presenting a carnival only— with all the fun rides and delicious food! We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience. We hope you'll still visit the carnival September 7th-12th, 2020, and safely enjoy a week of fun provided by Amusement Attractions and Pope's Concessions, located at the Dyer County Fairgrounds.”

“It was a very positive event,” said Purdy. “The County was very supportive. People turned out. There was some pushback by the local people, but the people who came were very positive and upbeat. They were grateful to be there.”

Leasing a fairground to set up for a long weekend is not unheard of for Amusement Attractions, but usually at most once a summer. This year it's happened at least three times for the company, and it's the first time, obviously, that these fairground still dates occur during the same time as the fair. It's a way to keep at least some semblance of an annual local tradition alive, and does pump some much needed, positive economic impact on the communities. 

2020 Realities



Is it worth for the carnival company? “We are going to do okay this year. You have to tighten your belt.” 

The company downsized to 18 rides, which also meant a smaller workforce. “The most difficult thing has been labor,” said Purdy. “We took less rides, so we had less overhead and employees, so we did save some money.”

Another seat-of-your-pants stop for Amusement Attractions occurred about a week later, as the Tri-County Fair in Atwood, Tennessee was actually put together with Phil Caldwell of Novelties by J.R and James Roy Pope of Pope's Concessions & Rides. This fair was held in a race track that was fallow for several years before Caldwell purchased it this summer and added promoter and producer to his resume. 

The event was so successful Purdy is encouraging a repeat next year. “I am familiar with this area and the people here love their fairs,” he said. “Clay Hill was a racetrack and it was a great venue. We're thankful to play any venue, but for a fair that was put together quickly, it was great, we had a lot of space. For the first year, it was very successful. I would definitely do it again.”

The fair was one of the better-attended events of the dismal year, but even the smaller crowds justified playing the date. “I think people wanted to feel normal, the fair gave people hope. People are feeling petty down, and if we can make them feel a little better that's a good thing. It was important for our guys too, because we are sick of moping around and not making money.”

By October, Purdy resumes the route that concludes in Louisiana and Mississippi in November. The conclusion – weather permitting – is actually his typical route. The fairs have simply not cancelled.  Of course, he follows strict safety distancing and other protocols on the midway that have standard during Covid 19.. “There was no increase in cases in any of the towns we played, I keep an eye on that. We want to provide a safe environment. A midway can be as safe as going to a Walmart, I think we proved that.” 

Magic Money

In addition to mask-wearing employees and a midway heavily populated with signage and sanitizing stations, a major component creating a safe environment was a cashless midway, courtesy of Magic Money. One of the leading Radio-frequency identification (RFID) companies specializing in the fair industry. The latest versions include such perks as a downloadable app for fairgoers, allowing them to reload their cards without waiting any lines, and have become more user-friendly for smaller, family-owned carnival company, like Purdy's operation.

In one of his last non-Covid-19 related business decision, after years researching systems, Purdy made the investment to digitize all transactions.  By mid-March, digitized or not, there were few to no transactions to process and Purdy will not deny some trepidation and second thoughts about making the investment and transitioning his midway as it became abundantly clear 2020 would not build the bottom line.

However, as Purdy cobbled together a somewhat scaled down, route, Magic Money turned out to be perfectly suited for the current situation.  Cashless also means touchless, an essential concern as midway providers looked for ways to reduce touch points and other transmission social distancing risks. 

“I had been looking at systems and Magic Money was the best for us,” he said. “It was flexible enough for a company our size, there were a lot of advantages.”

But in 2020, aside from the benefits of better tracking, accountability and all the other perks, “committees really liked the idea of it being  touchless,” he said. “People responded to the touchless angle. They really liked it.”

Another benefit of the automation of ticket sales was a better allocation of  labor, a crucial concern in a season were H2B workers are practically nonexistent. “People are used to using self-serve checkouts at Walmart and Target. It frees up our staff, I was able to make better use of our workers.”
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