Merriam's Midway Shows, like many other carnivals over the past five years, stabilized ride prices after the economy hit the skids.|
This season, the Texas-based carnival's 62nd year of operation, officials feel it's time to increase prices to keep up with higher overhead costs. Wristbands are now $20 compared with $17 in the past, according to Todd Merriam, the company's owner/operator.
"I haven't raised prices in a very long time," said Merriam, 46, a third generation showman. His grandfather Al Merriam started the show in the early 1940s. Dale Merriam, Todd's father, took over later and joins the show every summer in a semi-retired role.
"I have paid more attention to the hours we're open and the miles we're driving, Todd said. "You can only cut corners so many places."
Every year, the show makes the big 1,000-mile jump from Texas to play mid-May through Labor Day in the Midwest. The long journey requires multiple trips up north, said Merriam, who lives in San Antonio.
It's the same old story for all shows, finding qualified, dependable CDL drivers to move 25 rides a great distance, which Merriam says is the most difficult part of the business. Even with a solid crew of about six drivers, there is a vanload ready to head back to Texas for another trip to Iowa, he said.
The carnival has many longstanding relationships with events in Iowa, the Dakotas and Minnesota, starting with the annual Lincoln Highway Bridge Festival in Tama, Iowa. Then comes the North Iowa Band Festival in Mason City and My Waterloo Days. The carnival has played the Tama fest for most of its 33 years of existence, Merriam said.
County fair season in Minnesota covers dates in Austin and Albert Lea in the south central part of the state not far from the Iowa border. The show skips back into Iowa to play the Sioux City River-Cade in July. Festivals in Wagner, S.D. and Lisbon, N.D. are sprinkled in the upper Midwest route.
To keep the carnival in peak shape, the Merriam family refurbished five pieces for this season, the Go-Gator, Tilt, Sizzler, slide and the Himalaya, which has a new hydraulic system.
Todd Merriam's sister Trissa owns games. Dale Merriam is expected to catch up with the show in a few weeks to lend his knowledge and expertise. Other key personnel include Phil Dorman, Kenny Carter and Bruce and Kathy Carlson. Bruce Carlson has been a mainstay for Merriam's for many years, Todd said.
The carnival has a sentimental hole to fill after longtime concessionaire Mitchell Buxton died in March. Mitchell and his brother, Byron "Bucky" Buxton, who preceded him in death, were well known in the industry.
The first half of the season in the Lone Star State was decent, with new dates in Freer and Portland, Texas.
"When we get the weather, people were coming out and grosses were up," Merriam said. "But with higher expenses, we have had trouble holding on to our money I am encouraged with spending it's just a matter of how much we keep."
The carnival will hold the line on half-price wristbands it sells in advance. Carnival goers are accustomed to those specials and it has proved to be a profitable promotion. "There's money in the bank when I get to a spot which is nice to have," he said.
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