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Belle City Amusements opens 2021 Season at Manatee County Fair
Show reports 2021 winter route on track

First Fair of the 2021 Carnival Season
The show opened its 2021 season at the Manatee County Fair in Palmetto, Florida. Crowds were slow on the opening night, but picked up toward the weekend.

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Belle City Amusements just opened at the first fair of 2021: The Manatee County Fair, held  January 14th-24th in Palmetto, Florida.  “This is always our first fair of the year and we're just happy to be out and working,” said Charles Panacek, President/Owner of Belle City Amusements.  After participating in two successful events in the Fall of 2020, Panacek and his team are looking forward to a semi-normal 2021 season.

The 2021 Manatee County Fair has a full slate of entertainment, livestock shows, and exhibits to accompany the midway.  Cowboy Circus, The Dennis Lee Show, Circus Strong by the Coronas of Hollywood, and Pork Chop Review have daily performances. The Manatee County Fair Association has implemented the following safety guidelines to attend the 2021 Manatee County Fair, according to their website: “Masks are required in all buildings on the Manatee County Fairgrounds. Masks are not required outdoors where social distancing can be maintained. We strongly recommend all guests wear a face mask to attend.

Follow all directional signage that accommodates for a socially distanced capable environment.  Frequently use the hand sanitizing stations that will be readily accessible throughout the fairgrounds.  Be considerate of others around you and follow social distancing protocols.  Adherence to the guidelines will assist in our efforts to present a safe and successful fair.”

Unlike many other carnival companies, the Belle City Amusements staff has already practiced introducing COVID-19 prevention protocols into day-to-day operations.  “We were lucky enough to play two events in the Fall of 2020,” says Panacek; “we wrote and implemented safety procedures to use at the Georgia State Fair in Hampton, GA and the Gateway Fair in Lake City, FL.”  Both events had record attendance.  According to Panacek, customers were very participatory and did a great job when it came to social distancing and wearing masks; “people were ready to get out and be entertained,” he observed.

Belle City's COVID-19 protocol includes employees wearing masks and providing hand sanitizing stations placed all over the midway: on every single ride, game, and food both plus additional stations scattered throughout the area.  Staff members have schedules in place for disinfecting and cleaning rides after patrons disembark the rides.  "To promote social distancing we've re-arranged queue lines and used marking paint to provide guidelines for staying 6 ft apart when standing in line for an attraction. We also have an abundance of signage around reminding guests of the rules,” said Panacek.  The supplies necessary to open require a significant financial investment: one worth taking on in order to keep his staff working and provide safe, family fun for customers, according to Panacek.  This year, the layout at the Manatee County Fair will be just slightly smaller in order to provide more spacing and large walkways. 

Heading into the 2021 Manatee County Fair, Panacek feels confident in the success of the event. “I've been preparing with the Manatee County Fair Board since the Fall.  We met regularly to discuss safety.  This is a very conscientious Board; they're doing a really great job,” he said.  In addition to juggling the challenges of COVID-19, Panacek also had some staffing issues as the 2021 Manatee County Fair approached.  Normally, Belle City uses foreign labor and usually receives their employees this time of year, prior to their first event.  Due to the foreign labor cap, Panacek's staff members were running behind a couple of days. 

After the Manatee County Fair closes January 24th, Belle City Amusements will play several more fairs in Florida: the Charlotte County Fair, Hendry County Fair, Florida Strawberry Festival, Sarasota County Fair, Citrus County Fair, and Flagler County Fair.  Panacek and his team will then close up for the rest of April and May to do some maintenance work before reopening in Tennessee in June of 2021.  “So far, we have the green light from all of our fairs this Summer and Spring.  Now, with the vaccine being out, we have some hope for a good season,” says Panacek.

Like many of his peers, Panacek found at least one silver lining in his abnormal 2020 season: “We were able to work on a lot of projects this Summer.  We did a lot of additional painting and lighting upgrades including all new lighting on our Giant Wheel.  Thankfully, we were able to keep an American staff during the maintenance period,” he says.

Panacek wishes his peers in the outdoor amusement industry a safe and prosperous 2021; “2020 was a tough year for everyone. We're ready to be out on the road and continue to operate safely,” he says.

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