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A Visit With Five Star Amusements
By Lisa and Robert Limerick
A muggy and overcast Saturday the last weekend in May hadMCW traveling out to the beautiful rolling hills of Culpeper, VA to attend the annual Culpeper Volunteer Firemen,s Carnival.
Five Star Attractions, based in Wardensville, WV had their rides, games and concessions onsite for this yearly event. While we were there we caught up with Five Star Attractions owner Mike Arbaugh who graciously gave us an interview about his company.
Five Star opened the season in early April with their biggest show, McIntire Park in Charlottesville, VA. Five Star plays county fairs and firemen,s carnivals in and around the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and throughout West Virginia. They have a busy schedule covering approximately 20 - 25 shows a year between April and September.
Five Star is a family affair. Mike is a third generation owner following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. , Family is prevalent in the running of the carnival. Mike runs the day to day operation, while his fiancée tends to the funnel cake trailer. His mother runs several games and his brother and nieces run a popper wagon. Eighty percent of Five Star,s employees return every year which allows for a smooth operation with seasoned employees.
Family will continue to be involved in the future with the impending merger with his father Gary,s company Virginia Premier Attractions next year. Once the merger occurs they will maintain two units with separate routes and join together when necessary for larger events.
Five Star has approximately 20 rides, two concessions and multiple games. Rides include the Paratrooper, Round Up, Silver Streak, a trailer mounted Eli scrambler, Super Slide 2000, Way-Out Swings, the Hampton Cycles, a one seat and two seat Dragon Wagon, the heart shaped Heart Flips, a Go Go Gator, Tubs Of Fun, a Carousel and the Big 8 Eli Ferris Wheel.
The Carousel was recently re-themed and the Paratrooper will be undergoing a complete refurbishment after this season, receiving new paint and lights. All of the rides are constantly having minor updates and upgrades as the season moves along.
Concessions for the show includes a funnel cake stand and lemonade. Games include two Dart Pops, a basketball Shoot One and Win, and a water chaser game among others.
Five Star also travels with a generator trailer, ticket trailer, several utility trailers, an office and a bunkhouse for employee use. On the lot in VA, all of the rides were functioning and looked clean and well maintained.
Arbaugh said that safety was of the utmost importance and feels that having such a high employee return rate from year to year aids in his company,s stellar safety record. The rides were a great nostalgic step back in time that all the carnival goers appeared to be enjoying, with the Ferris Wheel clearly being the most popular during our time there.
Arbaugh said that his biggest current challenge in the business is his insurance expense. The lack of agencies providing amusement ride coverage in the United States makes having a stellar safety record even more important to continue to profitably run a business like this.
Other challenges include the weather and the economy. Even though the economy continues to impact family activities Arbaugh feels that people are supporting their local events and coming out to the local carnivals and fairs.
However, game revenue continues to be down. During the Culpeper run the weather cooperated and the impending storms on one evening stayed away until 15 minutes after the carnival closed.
Once the Culpeper run ends Five Star Attractions moves to Elkton, VA. They have a fully booked summer that includes stops in Highland County, VA; Weyer,s Cave, VA; Bridgewater, VA; and Amissville, VA. Five Star Attractions is a well organized group that also provides guests with a great taste of West Virginian hospitality.
While in Culpepper, we also had the opportunity to speak with Billy Joe Fugett, a game operator for his family,s business, Fun Time Amusements. Billy was overseeing the Dozer Push game with his mother operating the Ring Toss directly across from him.
Fun Time books with Five Star Attractions and several other companies in Virginia and West Virginia. Fun Time currently has eleven games including the Dozer Coin Push, the Ring Toss, and the Basketball Shoot.
Fugett said the economy is affecting game play and people aren,t playing games the way they used too. He said other than the economy his biggest expense is payroll. His wife, stepfather, and mother all run games but at bigger events they have to hire additional staff. Billy Joe Fugett quipped, "I don,t do it for the money; I do it for the fun".