“We had a very good run, the best in a couple of years,” was the immediate reaction of Tony Diaz, manager of the North American Midway Entertainment unit that played the March 14-April 7 Miami-Dade County Fair, which had a tremendous increase in attendance from that of 2018.
Michael Kramer, whose roasted corn operation was again the No. 1 food grosser, has a theory about why that happened. “They charged for parking last year and that did not go over well with the public, so under new management, (Eddie Cora replaced Bob Hohenstein as the president and chief executive officer) they got rid of that. They also got rid of so-called Magic Money that a concessionaire who no longer plays the fair, had convinced them into using.”
Kramer and his late grandfather, Eddie Perls, have had the corn stand at the fair for 48 years. “I'm happy we were Number One again. The quality of food you serve speaks for itself. A nice flashy stand is one thing, but if the food is garbage, it doesn't matter.”
“That Magic Money may work for amusement parks, but it doesn't work for us. Besides that, they had some great promotions, including $3 Wednesdays, when the gate admission was $3 and concessionaires offered a small item for $3. It's all about perception of value. You want the customer to leave feeling they had a good time and want to come back again, not that they spent a lot of money and it wasn't worth it.” Kramer lowered the price of an ear of corn this year from $5 to $4.50, noting, “five dollars is a bit of a sticker shock.” He admitted he picked up a few tricks after visiting Brad Ribar at his corn stand at the Minnesota State Fair last year. Some were very subtle, such as leaving a little space between the ears on the rack instead of stacking them next to each other. “Brad has an unbelievable operation.”
Kramer agreed with Diaz that it wasn't a record year, but it was much better than last year, and an indication that things are turning around.
“We were up substantially,” said Diaz, pointing out that the carnival, in its 15th year of operation, provided 98 rides, including a new Star Dancer from Interpark Amusements, which is based in the Provence of Modena, Italy. Booked in were Jeremy Floyd with his Space Roller, and Walter Gould, with a Frisbee ride. Diaz said Miami weather was great except for one day of rain that occurred during spring break.
I asked Diaz about the Giant Wheel that was featured in Minneapolis during the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Final Four Basketball Tournament. He confirmed it is owned by NAME and was manufactured by Chance. It received plenty of exposure in media outlets, especially TV, for its sponsor, Capital One Banking. Danny Huston, president and chief executive officer of NAME, has been booking the Giant Wheel at Final Fours for several years. During the season, it travels with the Mid America Unit, which is run by Danny and his son, Blake. That unit has just opened in Indiana.
Another unit, led by Pat Repp and Tom Thebault, opened Feb. 28 at Borderfest in Hidalgo, Texas, then played the Zapata County Fair, Zapata, and then spent three weeks in McAllen, Texas, where the show's winter quarters is located. That unit opened April 11 at a new spot, a mall in Alexandria, LA. After that, Repp plays a mall in Greenville, Mississippi, while Thebault heads to dates in Chicago.
Diaz's unit moves to Pelham, Alabama, for the Oak Mountain Amphitheater State Fair, April 18-May 5. Operated by Live Nation, the venue, which is near Birmingham, is the largest in Alabama. “Then we go to St. Louis for a couple weeks before heading for our Canadian route,” said Diaz. The first spot is the 137th annual Manitoba Summer Fair in Brandon, June 5-9, followed by the Garth Rogerson-managed Red River Exhibition, Winnipeg, June 14-23.
Patty Dee, veteran concession manager in Miami, provided a list of the top 10 food and games operators. Following Kramer were Ryan Collmer, turkey legs; Elizabeth Gray in third and ninth positions with her Beer 30 Saloon; Collmer, fourth, with barbecue; Lou (Meatball) Pacifico, Collmer's father-in-law, fifth, with corn dogs; Kristine Rieder, Blomsness's daughter, sixth, elephant ears; Dennis Fraleigh, kabobs; Bruce Beck, beer; and in 10th spot, Vicki Hunter, fries.
In the games department, Bob Cassata, owner of Bob's Space Racers, was first with racing waters, and seventh, with water gun fun. Second was Joey Fowler with a balloon pop water. Fowler was also fifth with a balloon dart-1, and ninth with a vertical water game double decker. William Thornberry was third, with a break a bottle, and No. 8 with center balloon pop water game. Fourth was Cornelius Vermolen, with a claw game. In the sixth spot was Paul Lombard, with a basketball-3, and No. 10 was Jeremy Solem, with a Scooby Toss-1.
Gray is recovering from her leg being paralyzed after a hip operation. She was excited to hear from me and said she was lucky to have two great managers, Becky Dobson, and Lorissa Smith, both of whom have been with her for many years. “We had a very successful run,” she stated. The daughter of Bea and the late Bob Negus, Gray travels during the season with Diaz's unit of NAME, operating the Fresh New Mini Doughnut stands, which she designed. She also has ice cream and coffee stands. The beer setup only works Miami. It has 21 taps and features craft beers and some other well selling brands. Gray offers a comfortable atmosphere, with couches, a bar, televisions showing mostly sports events, and she even has games, including corn hole, Jenga, and dominoes. “We make a great Margarita and sangria. One thing that helps with the beer is that we offer samples.”
She's proud that her dad has been recognized as one of the first in the carnival business to realize the importance of fairs and carnivals working together. He had a terrific relationship with E. Darwin Fuchs, when he ran the Miami-Dade County Fair. They'd cap off each night with a beverage and discuss what went right and what went wrong during the day. I was privileged to be a witness to the relationship.
The first person to call and let me know the fair went very well was Chris Walden, concession manager for Tinsley Amusements. He even forwarded a picture of himself with Eddie Cora and Albert Montes, the fair's chief financial officer. Walden was heading on April 10 to the Tasha Hyder-managed Clay County Fair, Green Cove Springs, Fla., being held April 4-13, where a fundraiser to help the OABA's H-2B foreign Visa program was being held by Deggeller Attractions.
Walden and his wife, Allison, also had their two poppers working, one in Arothia, Illinois, and the other in Charleston, Illinois. At Miami, their children, Hadleigh, nine, and Hampton, who turned six on April 9, both of whom are home schooled, were going on a field trip with members of the Deggeller School.
Walden also assists Deputy Director Jim Sinclair in the concession department on the independent midway each year at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul.
Needless to say, I was elated that Virginia won the national championship in basketball. My oldest daughter, Julia Mulherin, graduated from there and was a classmate of the great Ralph Sampson. Her daughter, Rose, and her husband, Michael, both Virginia graduates, attended the games and were the guests of my son, Tommy, and Paul Hill, who live in Minneapolis. Rose said she had never been to a state fair, so they' re returning over Labor Day where Jerry Hammer will show them what a great fair looks like. They all had a picture made with Sampson, who is seven feet, four inches tall. They looked like midgets. Hill, who dabbles in photography, snapped some incredible photos of the Chance Wheel.
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Have all great days, and God Bless!