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On The Earie by Tom Powell, OABA News Ambassador

Thu, May 02, 2019 5:00 PM | Sue Gallup (Administrator)

When Dennis Fraleigh and Richie Wright started off on their own in the carnival business, they decided that having something different was the way to go. “It was the 1980s and there was a health-conscious craze taking place across the country, so we decided to offer salads on our menu, recalled Fraleigh. The two had been working for Marty Valentino, whose son, Vinnie, is still in the business, before deciding to buy him out. Their first trailer was purchased from Rene Piche, a well-known food concessionaire from Ware, Massachusetts, who was traveling with 12 to 14 of his own trailers at the time. The trailer had been built by the late Bill Lordy.

            “It cost us $12,000, and we already had a solid route.” It included such locations as the New York State Fair, Syracuse, Erie County Fair, Hamburg, N. Y., the Columbia County Fair, Chatham, N. Y., Orange County Fair, Middletown, N. Y., and Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, N. Y., which the late Pat Reithoffer once told me was the biggest five-day fair in the country. I visited when Tom Odak was manager and it lived up to its billing. I'll never forget Odak, whose wife was from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., near my home town of Scranton, that each year he purchased a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to publicize the fair. Asked if that wasn't costly, the wily Odak winked and said he had a contact at the paper in the Sales department who made sure he got a good rate.

            At some point, Fraleigh bought out Wright, who wound up marrying Cindy LaGrou, whose father, Dick, had been the longtime AB agent for Deggeller Attractions when it was known as Deggeller's Spectacular Magic Midways, and owned by the late Irv and Evelyn and Alan and Toby Deggeller. Evelyn still has equipment on the road and is partnered in Stuart Concessions with Todd Desgranges and Joe Blume. They travel with R. C. Cole Shows of Covington, Virginia.

            Andy Deggeller, an OABA director, now runs the carnival while his parents, Don and Cathy, are still very much involved. Don was president of OABA in 2004. According to Fraleigh, Richie and Cindy now reside in Sarasota, Fla., and travel independently with several food stands selling fried dough, funnel cakes, and sugar shaker shakeups at fairs that include The Big E and Columbia, South Carolina.

            “We started off with a truck and trailer for $12,000. It was very easy for us to get into the business, and we never looked behind. It took us a year to get into The Big E. Because of some changes, Art Pokorny who was then in charge of concessions, needed a salad and London Broil, so he booked us.” Pokorny and his wife, Barbara, now specialize in selling pizza with their B. Wilson Enterprises stands.

            Fraleigh was happy to hear that his stand was the seventh highest grosser at the Miami-Dade County Fair for selling kabobs. The specialty for Dennis and his wife, Susan, is London Broil sandwiches. “We seem to be the last people standing with that because it requires so much work,” said Fraleigh. While playing Miami since the first time it went to 18 days, which he believes was 1982, this was his first time to try selling kabobs. “With London Broil, it's like fishing. You need a lot of bait,” he said.

            Speaking of the fair, which had a huge spike in attendance this year, Fraleigh admitted, “It was better than it has been in recent years.” But it wasn't like when Fuchs (E. Darwin Fuchs, president and CEO emeritus) and Bob Negus (Conklin Shows) were running it. You had carnival guys in charge then, and then the next two guys (Phil Clark and Bob Hohenstein) operated it more like a park. The new guy (Eddie Cora) is listening, and he made several notable changes for the good. The parking charge was eliminated. They got rid of Magic Money, and the fair shows signs of getting back to what it once was. But even with great promotions and excellent weather, Miami is a tough market.”

            Laughing about his kabobs stand finishing in the top 10, Fraleigh said his Fluffy Doughnut stand, named for his wife's nickname, “probably finished in the bottom 10.” He's in partnership with Laura Westphal on that and it did well at last year's Big E (Eastern States Exposition), West Springfield, Mass. “but we're still working out the kinks. It's a beautiful stand with a Century Products trailer.”
            So far this year, besides Miami-Dade, Fraleigh has worked the Rick Vymlatil-managed South Florida Fair, West Palm Beach, where he said the weather was bad but his business was good, and the Paul Davis-managed Florida Strawberry Festival, Plant City, “which was REALLY good. I think the entertainment was better than usual, and that made a big difference.”

            Fraleigh added, “There are just so many concessionaires at these Florida spots. When business is good in the Sunshine State, it means the economy is good, and it's a good sign for the rest of the year.” His next booking is a car sale at the fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, N. Y. His first fair is the 178th annual Saratoga County Fair, Ballston Spa, N. Y., July 23-28. “Next is Sussex County (the New Jersey State Fair, Sussex County Farm & Home Show, Aug. 2-11).” He then added, facetiously, “I don't have the honor of playing The Meadowlands (State Fair Meadowlands, East Rutherford, N. J., June 20-July 7),” a not so subtle dig at the high number of concessionaires who book there.

            Dates following that include the Wisconsin State Fair, West Allis; Erie County, Hamburg, N. Y.; Dutchess County, Rhinebeck, N. Y.; Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul; New York State Fair, Syracuse; The Big E, West Springfield, Mass; Georgia National Fair, Perry; and North Carolina State Fair, Raleigh. He reminisced about some spots that have gone by the wayside because the property they were on was too valuable, such as the Yonkers Raceway Fair in New York, that was operated by Big Bill Harding for the Rooney family that owns the National Football League's New York Giants. Another was a fair at a race track in Bensalem, Pa., where Reithoffer Shows played. “I always heard about those and wished I could have played some of them.” I told him that Harding often called me in the middle of the fair and put me on the phone with a bunch of carnival people while they were all sitting around and cutting up Jackpots. I miss seeing Harding at the Gibtown trade show.

            Fraleigh stated that obtaining good workers is always an issue. “But we have a small pool we always draw from. We don't use foreign labor. We rely on locals and find a way to manage.”

            When they were the Salad Boys, their trailer stood out at the biggest spots, but it didn't take too long to go from specializing in Greek and chef salads to more carnivorous items, thus the current name of the operation, Butcher Boys. “When people come to a fair, they usually don't look to healthy items.”

While noting that fuel prices continue to rise, Fraleigh hopes to keep from raising any of his prices. He relies on Fare Foods and Cisco for most of his products, while using commissaries at fairs where it is required. He charges $10 for a London Broil sandwich. As for gas, “it is what it is.”

            The Fraleighs now reside in Hobe Sound, Florida, and his shop is in Rhinebeck, N. Y. Asked about hobbies, Fraleigh said he plays some golf, but lists cars, collecting watches and playing drums in a local band among his favorite things to do. The band plays around Hobe Sound, Jupiter and Stuart, Fla, and features ride inspector Jim Caskey, who used to be with Conklin Shows, playing bass.

Please send news to tomp@oaba.org, or call 615 319-1258.

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