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With Route Intact & New Rides, Butler Amusements is Ready for 2022
Carnival Warehouse Interviews Sean Butler, Chief Operating Officer of Butler Amusements

Butler Amusements adds a Wisdom Hawaiian Express Himalaya for 2022
The piece was purchased pre-pandemic, but will make its debut at most of the shows spots in 2022. Photo by Steve Hinz.

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Butler Amusements has 1,357,659 reasons to expect the 2022 fair season will be better than 2021. One of the leading carnival companies in North America, COVID's impact on Butler Amusements was particularly devastating. In 2020, the lockdown essentially wiped out its route and while the rebound year of 2021 saw fairgoers return and ready to spend, many of the largest fairs for this west coast-based carnival company cancelled for two years running.

In 2019, Butler provided the midway for five events on the Top 50 Fairs list, as compiled by Carnival Warehouse – a combined attendance of 2,438,574, ranking the company as #4 of top carnival companies in the U.S. In 2021, the company provided the midway for only three top fairs, reaching only 1,080,915, dropping Butler's ranking to #8.

The worst of the pandemic now seems in the rearview, but the 2022 fair season will be far from free of challenges. Labor shortages, inflation, lingering social and political impacts from the coronavirus and of course the ultimate question: will fairgoers be as eager to return to the midway like they did last summer?

In order to find out how one of the leading midway providers will address these and other fair industry issues, Carnival Warehouse interviewed Sean Butler, Chief Operating Officer of Butler Amusements, and a new parent. He may not have not named all of the 1,357,659 reasons why he's looking forward to 2022, but creating memorable midways for fairgoers remains the company's mission.

Carnival Warehouse: How was 2021 for Butler Amusements? How did it compare to 2020?

Sean Butler: We started off 2020 with a great turnout in the two fairs we were able to open at before COVID shut down our season. So, 2021 was a much better year than 2020, even with not being able to get open until June.


CW: So far in 2022, what has been the Butler experience?

SB: 2022 has been great so far, we have been able to open at some fairs that haven't had a fair since 2019. Those fairs as well as some of the fairs we were able to open at in 2021 have been up since the last time we were there. We are hopeful that 2022 will be the biggest year we have had in our 52 years as a company.


CW: How many of your 2021 dates cancelled and what was the impact on Butler?

SB: We had more than half of our events cancel their 2021 dates, which of course was difficult. Not only was it financially difficult, it was mentally draining to have events cancel as you were trying to prepare for them.


CW: Is the 2022 Butler back to a pre-pandemic route?

SB: Our 2022 route is looking full and intact.


CW: With all the cancellations of fairs, especially in California, how has Butler navigated the pandemic?

SB: We got creative and opened a few of our own events as well as many drive thru food events to keep paying the bills.


CW: How many units will Butler have on the road this year?

SB: We have three main units operating like previous, pre pandemic years.


CW: Last year, the common theme was attendance dips, spending increases. Was this the Butler experience, and do you think this trend will continue in 2022?

SB: 2021 definitely followed that formula, which was ok by us of course. We had a couple of events in California in 2021 that we had to close the gates due to capacity limits that the state had enacted, so smaller crowds with bigger budgets was the sweet spot. So far we have seen similar crowds as 2021 with some events getting back to pre-pandemic attendance numbers.


CW: What new rides will Butler be debuting this year?

SB: We bought a Himalaya and a Century Wheel in 2021 that will be making their debut at many fairs and events this year as well as refurbished our Renegade Funhouse and Cyclone. We are constantly moving rides through our shop and will continue to do so through the summer months.


CW: What worries you the most about this fair season?

SB: If I didn't say COVID, I would be lying. When a lot of your business is based in California and California had some of the strictest pandemic response, it's always in the back of your head.


CW: What has been or will be the impact of inflation and higher fuel costs?

SB: We have no choice but to raise prices for most of our events and will be paying closer attention than ever to where we fuel up.


CW: Is your workforce stabilized? Are you under-staffed? Did you get your H2B workers?

SB: We have a great crew and were able to get most of our H2Bs, so we are grateful. We weren't able to get as many as we usually get but I wouldn't say that we are under-staffed.


CW: What do you think the biggest challenge will be for fairs and carnival companies this year?

SB: Fuel prices and inflation will of course be the biggest conversation. As inflation rises, will the per cap go down? Time will tell.


CW: What are you looking forward to this year (what are you most positive about)?

SB: Personally my wife and I welcomed our first child, Ella Butler, into the world in December, so taking her to meet our fair partners and explore all the different cities and states will be fun. I'm also very excited to go to events that we haven't been able to operate at in 3 years. There are so many young children that will be experiencing a carnival for the first time in their lives, that's what we live for. The look on a child's fast the first time they see the lights on the Ferris Wheel.
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