On the Earie
By Tom Powell, OABA News Ambassador
Reithoffer Shows posted back-to-back record runs at the Southwest Florida and Lee County Fair, Fort Myers, and Collier County Fair, Naples, proving it can be done, but it's not easy without a foreign labor force that has not arrived as of yet due to entanglements involving the H-2B Visa program.
Rick Reithoffer was a little more tired than usual when he spoke about the subject while he and his wife, Marianne, headed back to their home in Gibsonton on Monday. “We had a local Job Fair, I ran ads, we tried to get workers through the Internet, but most of those who came to work left as fast as they arrived. We have depended on our foreign workers for more than 15 years and I hope we get them back soon. It will depend on if the government releases those 69,000 more visas they've been talking about.”
The 94th annual Fort Myers fair, managed by Fran Crone, ran Feb. 28-March 10. Reithoffer said the weather was perfect, with sunny skies. “In fact, the fair president, Randy Crone, said it was too good because a lot of people decided to go to the beach instead of coming to the fair.”
The 43rd annual Collier County Fair, managed by Rhonda Ward, operated March 14-24. “We lost Tuesday to rain there, and part of Wednesday, but we had our strongest last weekend ever,” said Reithoffer. While Rick and Marianne were headed home, the show was on the way to Atlanta, with another unit going west for stops promoted by Brian Ellsworth in Houston and El Paso, Texas, “We set up in Riverdale, Ga., by the airport for the Civic Center and then play the Dogwood Festival in downtown Atlanta. The first is for 10 days, and the second one a week.” Reithoffer said he had 56 rides set up in Fort Myers, and 61 in Naples, all of which were show owned.
Entertainment at Naples included Dennis Lee, Tom Crawl, comedian and ventriloquist, Marc Dobson, the One-Man Band, High Diving Pirates of the Caribbean, Aquatic Aerobatic Show, Ives Brothers Big Air BMX/FMX Rhinestone Ropers, Grandpa Cratchet, Prehistoric Adventures, Show Me Safari Petting Zoo, Pony Rides, and Pig Races, Demolition Derby and Team Racing.
I spoke to Larry Habeck, 1987 president of the International Independent Showmen's Association in Gibtown, who with his wife, Gala, had their popper set up at the front gate in Naples and he said it was a very good run. “Everybody I talked to there did well. The big news out of Naples came from Fair President Don Jolly, that they're going to three weeks next year.”
Hiram (Scooter) Ryals, who has been booking concessionaires on the independent midway there for the last 43 years, confirmed that next year's dates will be March 12-29. “They've been talking about extending the dates for at least the last six years. The fair's attendance has been growing in leaps and bounds. Traditionally, 40 per cent of the income is derived on weekends, but this year, Reithoffer offered $1 rides on Monday and the fair had a $5 gate and we packed them in.
“Another special promotion was scheduled for Tuesday, but we wound up getting rained out. People in Naples come to the fair late and stay late. A couple nights the grounds were still crowded when we closed.” Ryals said 95 per cent of the vendors have already signed up for next year's fair. Ryals and his wife, Beverly, had two of their own poppers set up at Naples, and he confirmed business was great.
Habeck pointed out that he and Ryals have lived across the street from each other in Riverview for 48 years. “We're right down from the club, which makes it nice,” said Larry, who mentioned some of the other concessionaires who had successful runs in Naples.
They included Richie and Judy George, with four or five joints, Lee and Judy Stevens, Art Carroll and his sister, Carmen; Fred and Carol Weaver of Racine, Wisconsin, with their Old Tyme Photo booth, Zack and Jennifer Swift, “and Jeremy Thomas, who used to be with Powers Great American Midways, and is now with Rick Reithoffer. Don't forget Joe Potillo, who took care of the donickers.”
Habeck, who has provided me with lots of good pictures, makes his next stop at the 69th annual Hernando County Fair & Youth Livestock Show, Brooksville, Fla., April 12-20. Arnold Amusements has the carnival midway contract after years of North American Midway Entertainment playing the spot. Tony Diaz's Unit of NAME is at the 68th annual Miami-Dade County Fair, March 14-April 7, with the fair closed on March 18 and 19, and April 1 and 2. Eddie Cora is in his first year as president and CEO in Miami, and Patty Dee remains as director of concessions.
Speaking of Arnold's, I received a nice note from one of Ivan and Agnes's sons, Tom, the other day. It put a big smile on my face to read what he said that “Dad and I were out putting up posters for the second annual Showmen's Riverfest Carnival, out in front of Showtown USA. We went in and saw they were selling gift cards. Naturally, we thought of you and figured you would like one. We got you a drink on hold. Tell Christine Hi!” Andy and Ethel Osak, original owners of the bar when we called it Andy's, would laugh at first, and then conclude this was a brilliant idea. I will treasure my card. The poster for the March 21-24 Gibtown Showmen's Museum fundraiser, was very nicely done.
Ron Porter of Fare Foods called the other day to tell me how much he missed our mutual friend, the late Bill Lordy. I first met Porter at the Miami event back when E. Darwin Fuchs was in charge. Porter allowed us the use of one of his golf clubs the entire time I was there.” Bill and I used to bet on the basketball games in the NCAA Tournament, and at the end of the fair, one would owe the other something like $100 or $200.” Ron said the Fare Foods/NICA trade show was a huge success. I always enjoyed attending that and taking advantage of Porter's incredible hospitality. Christine and I were lucky enough to attend several of his Super Bowl parties. Unfortunately, as he wished me well with my current melanoma bout, he said he was not in Miami, as we spoke, but back in his home base of Duquesne, Ill., due to his beautiful wife Laura's third recurrence of cancer. I'll be praying for her.
Lordy, who was always one of the top grossing food concessionaires with his elephant ears, would be pleased to know his significant other, Tracey Brewer, has a sparkling new stand, and has been operating at various locations in the Branchville, S. C., area while also expanding the menu.
Entertainment at Fort Myers included Billy Elvis Lindsey, Conjurer, Tadpole the Clown, Those Funny Little People, Marc Dobson, One Man Band, Hypnotist and Magician Ron Diamond, Sea Lion Splash, Eudora Farms Petting Zoo, Todd Charles, The Moogician; Prehistoric Adventures, Matt's Family Jam, Fritzy Brothers Entertainment, and Kristen Johnson as Lady Houdini.
I appreciate all the e-mails, notes and calls I've been getting, offering prayers and well wishes. Who wouldn't? But one reader, Alan Mcilvaine of Largo, Fla., skipped through everything, called and said, “I never knew you were at ringside for the Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fight.” I finally impressed him, and that took place March 8, 1971, the same date 48 years to the day after I had my surgery.
Carmel Dyer-Pittroff, who has Australian Battered Potatoes, got to me when she wrote, “Fantastic news, the power of prayer and a miracle. Not even one column missed. We wish you a speedy recovery. Blessings!” It was signed Carmel and Fred and if you don't know Fred Pittroff, who has Giant Slides, including the one at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, you are really missing something.
Thanks to all!
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Have all great days, and God Bless!