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Blue Sky Amusements Owner Reflects on Past & Present in Industry: "Things are Getting Tougher"
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Blue Sky Amusements had a phenomenal season in 2022, according to owner Bill Reiss, but he also recently shared that ultimately the family-owned business is getting tougher to grow in more ways than one.

“We are in trouble,” Reiss says of his New York and New Jersey- based business. He has 14 regular staff but needs more workers. “The major concern is workers. We have a lot of H-2B issues. No one wants to work and we have to figure out how to work it out. This government has to do something for us or otherwise we are going to be out of business. Everyone needs physical labor workers.”

It has been a struggle for many carnivals to get H-2B laborers the last couple of years, due in part to the way the system is set up, current regulations and the subsequent lack of enough workers to go around. Many businesses are waiting in line, desperate for labor employees. 

“Help is the biggest thing,” Reiss says. “It's a major stumbling block for the industry. We've also lost that trade of working with your hands. No one wants to do it.”

As Covid-19 sent so many students and employees home bound and into the realm of the virtual, people may have started getting too comfortable at home. Companies post-Covid-19 may also lack motivation to secure or train additional trade laborers, since younger people entering the workforce are trending away from those trades and looking for employment either virtually or in positions that pay a good deal of money right off the bat. Colleges also haven't been pushing or advising people who may not be the “college type” to get into the trades, Reiss says. 

If physical labor positions continually aren't filled and the problem isn't remedied, the country will continue paying for it far into the future, and certain industries – like carnivals – may eventually be lost to memory and time. 

“We are like dinosaurs now, not to be depressing,” says Reiss. “We will be obsolete in a few years if things don't change.”

An additional factor that may prove detrimental to carnival success is the current push for increased minimum wages across the country. With the hourly minimum wage soon to increase in New York, it will be difficult to give people the hours they desire with the type of the money they want to be paid. 

“People who do want to do the physical work now tend to demand bigger pay and longer hours, which is just not possible for company owners, especially with rising insurance costs.”

Another major challenge Blue Sky Amusements has faced is the death of its matriarch, Susan Reiss. Susan passed away in September of 2022 and her loss irrevocably changed the dynamic of the company. 

“It's tough,” Reiss shares of the very personal obstacle of losing his beloved wife. “I was with her in this for 47 years; she was with me all the way and helped me build this carnival.”

The couple met on a Tilt-A-Whirl at the Green Lawn Fireman's Fair nearly 50 years ago, when Susan cut in line while Bill was running the ride. He said he accused her of cutting in line, and she disregarded him with a smart retort. Immediately, he knew she was something special. 

“She was an extremely hard worker and without her the business just has not been the same.” 

Susan had many roles within the company and her main job was running the ice cream and cotton candy trailers. Other family members who help out with the business include Reiss's brother-in-laws, John Keffas and Steve Maroulis, his two sons, Michael and Billy and his daughter, Catherine. 

Though there have been challenges, there are also positives coming for Blue Sky Amusements this season. The company recently purchased two new rides to add to its 35-ride lineup, in hopes to expand the Kiddieland area. The rides include a Pound Puppy, as well as a mini Breakdance, both purchased from Rides 4 U.

This will also be the first season Blue Sky Amusements is implementing the Magic Money system – the system which offers visitors a reusable, re-loadable digital wristband they can use as payment for carnival rides, games and more. 

“It's a great system, it works out really well,” Reiss says. 

The card can be reloaded with a debit card, credit card or cash. It helps cut down on the time people have to spend waiting in lines, and eliminates the stress of employee mistakes when handling customer purchase.
In the carnival industry since 1964, and now at age 71, Reiss is definitely feeling like slowing down and plans to focus more on going fishing and relaxing, as well as spending more time with his grandchildren. For the foreseeable future, Blue Sky Amusements will stick to venues within 100 miles of home, due to rising insurance, fuel and transportation costs.

Reiss plans to pass the torch along to his children.  

“We are like farmers,” he reflects. “We plant the seeds in winter and hope they grow fruitful in the summer, but we need to find a happy medium.

“My kids want to be involved in the business and are doing the best they can without their mother,” he continues. “I hope my two sons take over. My daughter wants to help too. It's a tough business, but I enjoyed it when it was in its heyday and at least my kids have been able to get out into the field in the real world. It's a good business but things are getting tougher. The good thing about carnivals has been that we give enjoyment to people who are less fortunate – to those people who can't afford to go to places like Disney World. They have been able to come here. We have brought a lot of joy and smiles to people.”

And in the end, perhaps that makes it all worth it.

New Mini-Breakdance Ride for 2023, from Rides 4-U
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