“We operated a partial route in 2021, many of my fire department and church dates cancelled on me and we scrambled to fill those weeks at shopping centers and smaller spots,” says Reiss. “With some good promotion we performed really well at these new locations. And the fire department and church spots that did run in 2021 were all up almost 50%.” Cancelled events weren't the only challenges Reiss faced when he prepared to re-open. He purchased a ride in 2020 just about two weeks prior to the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the US. Working with a foreign ride manufacturer, Reiss put a $25,000 deposit down on the ride and has been unable to get his money back even though he never took delivery of the equipment. “Personally, I won't do business with any foreign companies again. I can't get recourse on them. They tried to tell me they'd make it up to me when the pandemic ended but at that time I really could've used the money since we sat at home the rest of the year,” says Reiss.
In 2020, the extent of Blue Sky Amusements' business was a $1,200 rental for his playhouse to round out a project that required some older rides for a ghost amusement park. “We knew 2021 had to be different,” says Reiss. Luckily, he was able to get the H-2B employees he relies on each year.
“Thank God,” says Reiss. “Without them, we'd be out of business. I only have about five American employees. Nobody wants to work. My H-2B employees are fantastic but I have to worry each year about whether or not I'll get them.” Like every carnival owner in 2021, Reiss struggled finding qualified drivers to pull loads. He event tried to hire at $45-$50 an hour and still had trouble.
Looking ahead to 2022, Reiss has kept all of his old accounts and even picked up some new fairs. “We're going to be working with Reithoffer Shows at the New Jersey State Fair,' says Reiss. Blue Sky Amusements used to travel up and down the East Coast but now he travels at most about 100 miles in each direction. “I go by the philosophy ‘keep it small and keep it all,'” he says. At his 2021 events, Reiss made a special effort to ensure patrons felt safe at his events. “We sprayed the rides to sanitize them and had hand sanitizer stations available at each ride and food stand. Our employees were masked and we encouraged guests to wear masks which we made available for free at our ticket booths,” he says. The public response was certainly encouraging and Reiss recalls feeling like people were excited to get out and have some fun. “Quarantines and lockdowns were unbearable for many families. People had money for the carnival and wanted to spend it,” he says. Labor shortages created some problems and rides had to be closed down oftentimes due to lack of employees but carnival-goers were patient and understanding.
Headquartered on his 14 acre plot of land in East Moriches, Long Island, Reiss balances work and fun. “I can deer hunt in my backyard in the mornings and fix rides during the day. We do lots of work in New Jersey and some on Long Island but I stay out of the city,” he says. Reiss runs the show with his family including his wife, Susan; children Billy, Michael, and Catherine; sister in law, Kathleen Keffas and her husband John; brother in law Steve; and grandson and granddaughter. Currently, Blue Sky Amusements is nearing 36 rides along withs several food stands and games. “We have very few independent operators around us and really keep it in the family. My wife owns the ice cream and cotton candy stands, my son Billy has a taco stand, and my daughter had a duck pond and water gun games,” says Reiss.
Describing himself as a man of his word with high standards for his family and employees, Reiss believes that if he puts up a good quality show that events and opportunities will continue to present themselves. Most of Blue Sky Amusements' events have remained a part of the route for close to 40 years. “Our churches and fire departments have used our show for a long time. They appreciate our equipment and our employees. I enforce strict uniform guidelines and make sure everyone is polite, courteous, and clean cut. I've also required my employees to be vaccinated for Covid,” says Reiss.
Before the 2022 season kicks off, Reiss is thankful to be back at his Winterquarters and is ready for a break. “I'm turning 70 this year. I had to pile into the truck and pull loads a lot this season,” says Reiss. His brother-in-laws Steve and John, and sons Billy and Michael run the day to day operations of both of the Blue Sky Amusements units. “They do a great job for the show and we're one big happy family running this business together,” says Reiss.
Blue Sky Amusements usually starts the season in April and runs through August with church and fire department locations and then finishes the season with fairs through the second or third week of October. “I'm hoping we get the same amount of people and revenue as we did this year but it all depends on Covid,” says Reiss. To round out his arsenal of rides, Reiss is looking to buy something new but only wants to purchase from an American company due to the incident he had with a foreign company in 2020. While he's back at home, Reiss plans to redo a couple of his standard rides: his Chance Carousel and bumper cars. “I just sent my Zipper to get rebuilt by Mike Featherston for this upcoming year. It will be like brand new,” he says.
“It's nice to make money but it's also nice to sit back and relax after 45 years. I've paid my dues in this business,” says Reiss. He started out as a 10 year old kid looking for a job when the carnival came to Patchogue. John Taylor was a concessionaire running games who gave Reiss his first job. “I think I got $1 a day and any dinner I wanted,” says Reiss. He went on to work for a gentleman in NY who had a carnival on the side of his NYPD job in the 60s. Eventually, Reiss branched out on his own in 1981, and with a partner, built Silver Dollar Shows. “We split in 2003 and went our own ways,” says Reiss. For him, the amusement business is precious; “I met my wife on a tilt-a-whirl at the Green Lawn Fireman's Fair. I was running the ride and this girl and her three friends cut the line and I just had to meet her. That was 47 years ago. I still have that tilt-a-whirl now,” says Reiss. Currently, Reiss is sitting at home enjoying time with his granddaughter, Quinn and grandson, Kaidon getting in some quality family time before the hard work begins again.