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  • Elliott's Amusements sees uptick in Michigan economy
    Elliott's Amusements has experienced a solid but sweltering season playing its home state of Michigan. The carnival, steeped in tradition with ties to Glenn Wade, Red Wood and Jim Elliott, is on the back side of completing a run of eight county fairs, including a new date, the Otsego County Fair in Gaylord, Mich.

    The show acquired the date as a result of other carnivals "shuffling around" their events, according to Debbie Elliott, the company's co-owner with her husband Tracy. Otsego County sits north of most of the fairs Elliott's plays on the west side of the state but it still fits in well with routing, she said.

    The fair ran Aug. 14-20 and the carnival set up 18 rides, including its Bear Affair and Tempest, two new attractions on this year's midway. The carnival's other attractions include an Ali Baba, a Zipper, Sea Ray, bumper cars, Tilt-a-Whirl, Eli Hi-5 wheel, Rock & Roll, a Mulligan swing, Paratrooper and Flying Bobs.

    Kiddieland attractions include a merry-go-round, slide, Berry spin ride, Croc & Roll, Sugar Shack,helicopter, Apple Worm, Spider Mania and the Crystal Lil's glass house, a Ross Owens piece.

    In addition to the new rides, the carnival built a new shop as part of its winter quarters in Danville, Mich., a few miles away from the Elliott family home in Mason. 

    It's been very hot this summer in the upper Midwest, which has kept the crowds down a bit, but when the weather breaks the midway is full of people, Elliott said. The economy is getting better in Michigan, although it's been a long struggle to get the auto manufacturing industry back on its feet in Michigan, she said.

    That being said, Elliott sees the agricultural-based fairs thriving in Michigan. It's a positive sign considering county fairs are the life blood of mid-size shows such as Elliott's Amusements and help keep those family operations in business in an industry that has seen several carnivals go out of business over the past five years.

    The show relies heavily on international labor to make it all work. For the 2016 season, Elliott's is employing 23 Mexican nationals. Of that total, one is a new worker and the rest have worked for the carnival for multiple years. The H2B Visa program has proven to be a godsend for the carnival. The show gets its foreign workers through JKJ Workforce and Debbie Elliott can't say enough good things about the agency.

    "They've done an awesome job for us," she said. "[Company owner] Jim Judkins has totally devoted his life to making sure the program works. We would all be in big trouble without it."

    In late August, the show had two more county fairs to play before heading to Greater Detroit to play a half-dozen Catholic church festivals and community celebrations. Those events: St. Alfred's, St. Linus, River Rouge Days, St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Mary's and the Red Flannel Festival. The carnival's final day of operation is Oct. 9.

    This year marks the show's 16th season after Tracy Elliott left Wade Shows to start his own carnival. Nick Elliott, Debbie and Tracy's son, is the general manager and he owns rides and games. His wife Kasey owns games and a bungee ride.
    Jim Elliott, Tracy's father, owns a lemonade stand. He also serves as treasurer of the International Independent Showmen's Museum in Gibsonton, Fla.

    Dorothy Alverson, a longtime family friend, is the office manager. Debbie Elliott has been in the carnival business her entire life. She grew up on the old Midway of Fun show, a Minnesota outfit owned by Ray Drescher.

  • K-Days: Giving Fairgoers More Value in Tough Economy
    Popular industry wisdom seems to be that, while fairs may not be entirely recession proof, they have a resiliency during weaker economic times due to the value of the experience. 

    Fairs are affordable entertainment, an appealing value for folks on tight budgets seeking to optimize this year's summer Stay-cation.

    With the decline in oil and gas prices, Alberta Canada's economy continues to be mired in the doldrums, a situation compounded by persistent unemployment and the high U.S. dollar, weakening Canadian currency. 

    K-Days decided to increase the value-added aspect of the K-Day attendance, which included increasing the music and other entertainment by adding a stage, more community outreach to different populations by adding a 10-day Pow Wow as part of the fair in partnership with the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation as well as an Indigenous Princess contest. 

    Value Added=Added Entertainment
    The strategy apparently was effective. K-Days experienced a 2.3 percent in attendance compared to 2015, reaching 830,807. "What we are seeing is that people really wanted to provide them with value," said Mike Warkentin, Interim Director, Northland Events. 

    "People don't have the money to spend and they are not going to travel so far. The high dollar has really hit people pretty hard, so they are staying closer to home and they are looking for value for their entertainment dollar." 

    "Last year we heard our guests wanted more value for their dollar and we listened," said Tim Reid, President and CEO, Northlands. 

    "With our K-Days concert series we saw 20 acts over 10 days on two stages. We believe we provided tremendous value for the entertainment dollar for Edmontonians and Northern Albertans."

    Fairgoers received more value because they had more entertainment. K-Days increased its entertainment offerings by adding a second stage, essentially creating what Warkentin described as a "music festival on the infield of our stadium," and also nearly doubling the amount of music entertainment for the 2016 fair. 

    The two stages targeted two different demographics, according to Warkentin, essentially young adults and teens, and the other stage essentially ages 25 and above. 

    K-Days has always had big names of mainly international stature, but this year was the first they had an emphasis on Canadian music acts, basically 18 out of the 20. The measure was not just a Canadian pride initiative, but saved costs. "The exchange made the American acts too expensive this year," he said.

    The result was a diversity of entertainment, including Ria Mae, Matthew Good, The Trews, Tim Hicks, Eleven, Simple Plan, Victoria Duffield and Rachel Platten. Every appearance had a sponsor/partner with a regional radio station, further enhancing the marketing reach of K-Days.

    "K-Days embraced a new formula, which was to have acts on free stages, 10 major acts for adults and 10 more for audiences of all ages," said Scooter Korek, Vice President of Client Services, North American Midway Entertainment (NAME), who provided the midway for the event. "I see in the fair industry, fairs are looking to cut down their entertainment, they're straining from the cost. But K-Days did a complete 180, they increased their entertainment, and the investment paid off. They had very aggressive marketing and an entire new platform that included both music and the midway. That's why their attendance increased."

    Korek agreed that the economy is not strong and consumer confidence is low. The emphasis on value through added entertainment was an equation that helped all segments of the fair, especially the midway. "They had a great line up, Simple Plan was probably the best draw. You bring people out to the fair, and they are going to stay and go on the rides. The stay time for fairgoers was six hours, and when people go to one and often both of the free concert acts, it benefits the midway, because you get more people and more people stay. It's better for all of us. With the line up, they were drawing new people to the fair, and people from all ages."

    K-Days Pow Wow
    K-Days also reached out to the indigenous community of the area, partnering with the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation to put on its first ever K-Days Pow Wow, an exhibition throughput the entire event that featured various demonstrations and exhibits of First Nation culture. "They are an important community in Alberta, and we are an inclusive fair," said Warkentin. 

    A related first was K-day's inaugural Northlands Indigenous Princess Pageant. The pageant, launched in conjunction with the Pow Wow, "embraced indigenous culture in the spirit of reconciliation," according to K-Days press release. The first Indigenous Princess was Britney Pastion, who also goes by her indigenous people's name - Beautiful Singing Earth Morning Star Woman - is graduating from NAIT's Television program, and has worked for CTV News and REDx Talks. She will also take on some spokesman responsibility for K-Days. 

    "We are honored to have such a tremendous ambassador for Northlands and the Indigenous community," said Tim Reid, President and CEO of Northlands. "I look forward to working closely with Britney and members of the Treaty Six community and continuing the great work we have laid the foundation for during this year's K-Days. It is my sincere hope that we can look back in 20 years and say this is the day we are most proud of."

    "I am honored to be the Northlands Indigenous Princess," said Pastion. "In the next year, I hope to be a proud ambassador of our culture and community and to help educate others."

    Pokemon Go
    The marketing budget was about the same as last year, according to Lori Cote, Public Relations Manager, the marketing themes used were divided into two demographics - entertainment seeking 16-24 year olds and included: 20 Concerts, 10 Days, 1 Pass; Adjust Your Altitude; Can't Stop, Won't Stop; Bring Your Own Yaaaaaaaah!; Soak in the Summer and Give 'Em Five; and value-driven 35-44 year olds with children; Where the Smiles Happen; Smiles For Miles; Share Something Sweet and Stuffed Full of Magic.

    "We definitely want people to come for more than one day and we did see that," said Warkentin. "We also saw 33 percent increase in advanced ticket sales, which was both online and in a number out of outlets. We promoted the entertainment in our advertising, and people wanted to see the acts we had. 

    Warkentin said that social media is a growing element of marketing K-Days, mainly through Facebook and Instagram, "although we are Snap Chat more," he said. 

    The fair also tied into Pokemon Go, which launched on July 15th in Canada. The fair promoted its Pokemon Go promotion as "a 10-Day Lure Party at #KDAYS," and "every Pokemon GO trainer's paradise, featuring prizes and the chance to catch wild Pokemon at our onsite PokeStops!"

    "We tried to capture the Pokemon Go fairgoer with promotions," said Warkentin. "We used different elements of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. It encouraged people to see more of the fairgrounds."

    Community Support
    The Pokemon Go marketing also tied into TechLife, which features video & tabletop gaming competitions and exhibitors. Although TechLife was in its third year, the exhibit also hosted the very first Canadian Drone Racing Championship. This year TechLife also showcased Extra Life gaming tournament, with donations raised going to the Stollery Children's Hospital.

    Using the fair to fundraise for local charities, as well as outreach to communities exemplified by the Pow Wow, underscored the community support K-Days receives that has enabled its success. ""We had amazing community support," said Warkentin. 

    "People here love K-Days and come out every year. By just providing the value we do for the price our ticket, it gives people a chance to escape their problems for a day. That is why we saw an increase in attendance, even though we are not in the best economic times." 

    K-Days featured 92 food vendors, which is about average for the event, according to Warkentin. While he described the cuisine offerings, mainly typical fair food, two new items that were popular "were Meat Ball Subs on a Stick by Rick Pizza and Rainbow Grilled Cheese by Tim Lizzy. We like the usual fair stuff."

    He also affirmed that the trend towards inclusion of not just good, but good-for-you fair cuisine options, had reached the Canadian market. "There's definitely a push towards healthier foods, gluten free and vegan offerings," he said. "There was more fresh fruit and vegetable offerings. That is a trend I noticed."

    Warkentin said that the Food & Beverage food numbers were still "being crunched," but the overall mood among the food vendors, "was very positive. People were coming for a lot of the programming we had, and they were staying and eating corndogs and going on rides. In a down economy, people wanted value, our food vendors were happy with sales." 

    Tough Economy
    The K-Days Stampede midway, provided by NAME (North American Midway Entertainment), featured 59 rides, including new a Himalia and Charlie Chopper, and a ground up, $250,000 restoration of the Polar Express, which has become a prized jewel of the Canadian NAME route, according to Korek. 

    "We had better weather for K-Days than we had other fairs," he said. "We had two days that were inclement weather, but the attendance was strong and we saw an increase in advanced sales. The whole thinking of online purchases has really taken off for this fair." 

    The weather was a little cool for Summer in Western Canada, in the 70s and low 60s. I would rather have cool than too hot or rain, but people are coming out. We were battling weather at other fairs, but K-Days was good. The economy is a little bit tougher here, they are wary of spending money, but the community supports their fair." 

  • Calgary Stampede's Community Support Strong Despite Rainy Days & Down Economy
    Less than optimum weather and a Canadian economy still stuck in the doldrums negatively impacted the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada. Attendance was more than 1.8 million, but still down by more than 80,400 compared to last year. But community support for this Rodeo and Western Culture event still made for a successful fair, auguring well for its future sustainability.

    "We had a terrible weather week, it was very rainy," said Jennifer Booth, Manager, Public Relations Calgary Stampede.. "The first couple of days, we had nice weather, and for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we had daily attendance figures that were higher than the previous year But for most of the fair, we had rainy periods, some thunder and lightening, we didn't close down but it was gloomy." 

    Community Support
    She added, "the weather became comical half-way through the fair. There's nothing you can do about the rain, but we have a number of indoor and outdoor attractions. There's really a good balance of indoor and outdoor activities, and when the rain stopped people came out." 

    The regional economy is about the same as last year, and while not getting worse, Booth pointed out that there is a "compounded effect, because people have been unemployed for longer periods of time. More people are taking the stay-cation, and that helps because we are a very good value, but there's a lot of apprehension, so people aren't spending as freely."

    But on the other hand, the Calgary Stampede has tremendous community support. "We can really feel the love. Calgarians love their stampede, and we're pretty resilient. There is a lot of community spirit when it comes to Stampede time, and it's a great way to showcase Western culture."

    Indian Village
    The most popular new attraction - and one sure to be come annual event - was an  Indian Village exhibit, which showcased the culture of Canada's First Nations. "We were able to showcase their culture, we had 26 tepees set up, different demonstrations, artisan products,  performances."

    Another popular attraction was the return of the Peking Acrobats,  which performed three times per day. "They were back by popular demand, and they were very well received." 

    While the Stampede's main focus is the Rodeo, headline entertainment include the Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum and Jeff Dunham.  "We do have some clout, so booking entertainment hasn't been an issue here like it has been in some places," said Booth. 

    Stampede Things
    The Calgary Stampede developed a clever and compelling marketing campaign that combined the personal ownership appeal of an event that continues to be a popular promotion strategy with the uniqueness of this particular fair. The tagline was 'It's a Stampede Thing, ' which Booth said "was very effective, and made the general public bring their own personality to the Stampede."

    Booth described the tagline being used as a punchline, such as Parallel Parking Between Two Chuck Wagons or Eating All Your Meals on a Stick, with a rejoinder, "It's a Stampede Thing."

    Booth said the campaign, "was a lot of fun, and we encouraged Hasthtags with It's a Stampede Thing, which caught on. It was really about fairgoers creating their own Stampede Experience. People come to the Stampede every year, purely for rodeo, rides and food. But it's also their own fair and family activities, so our marketing campaigning was to be inclusive."

    While Booth declined to disclose the marketing budget for the event, she said that it was about the same last year and included standard expenditures in all variety of media, old and new. "But we increase our social media every year, we adapt to trends and it gets bigger. The tagline was definitely incorporated in our social media, and it was a great slogan for Facebook. 

    She added that it was the third year for the Stampede to have a Stampede photography contest. "It's a typical Instagram contest, and works great. We also dabbled in Facebook Live this year." 

    The fair also attempted a pop-up promotion. With Mother Nature being uncooperative and negatively impacting attendance, Booth implemented a $5 admission price for entry between 5:00 - 7:00, prime time for the fair. "It was a thank you to our guests, because when it's raining, you want to thank them for coming to the fair. It was kind of spontaneous, we decided mid-fair that we had to do something."

    Booth pointed out that while the concept of a pop-up promotion wasn't new to the Stampede, implementing a mid-fair price reduction was. "We did see an increase in attendance when we reduced the price, so it was a success. It was mainly conducted through Social Media. I expect we will be doing more of them in the future, because they do work and social media is a great vehicle for a pop-up promotion. We were heavy on social media for the pop up promotion, but we also did a little on live radio, and interviews." 

    Rodeo Strong
    The main draw of the Calgary Stampede is the Rodeo, accompanied of course of by Western motifs. While rodeo may seem out of the mainstream elsewhere in North America, dedicated fans and the long established Rodeo traditions of the Calgary Stampede remain a dependable foundation for this Canadian fair. 

    "The rodeo is an iconic event, and it is an invitational rodeo," said Booth, with a $2 million dollar purse and $100,000 up for grabs on each competition day."

    She added, "I'm not sure how much it is growing, but the rodeo has a very large and loyal fan base. People come from all over the world to see this rodeo. The rain didn't really affect the competition, it was just a little messier. People came out to the see the rodeo in the rain, they stick it out."

    NAME Midway  
    The Calgary Stampede midway, provided by NAME (North American Midway Entertainment),  featured 59 rides, including new a Himalaya and Charlie Chopper, and a ground up, $250,000 restoration of the Polar Express, which has become a prized jewel of the Canadian NAME route, according to Scooter Korek, Vice President of Client Services, NAME. 

    "It is getting rave reviews from our customers," he said. "It is a specular Music ride, but we've done a beautiful job with it, it is an entirely new ride. 

    The biggest grossing rides at the Calgary Stampede were the Crazy Mouse Roller Coaster and Giant Wheel.

    "We had an abnormal amount of rain," said Korek. "Eight out of the 10 days had periods of rain, that hurt our overall performance, and hurt their attendance. But apart from the rain, it was a good Stampede."

    The regional economy also affected the fair. "There's a large amount of unemployment in the area, which relies heavily on the oil industry. People are staying home because of the high U.S. dollar. People are apprehensive about the future. But that helps the fair, because of the value, so people still come out of the fair. And the Stampede does a lot of promotions and that appeals to people and draws them out." 

    Korek pointed out that the rodeo is as "popular as ever," but added that the extraordinary aspect of the Calgary Stampede is that "the whole town gets into the spirit. The western culture, the rodeo, the Chuck Wagon lifestyles, that is big out here, and everybody loves the Stampede. But even people who have no relationship with the fair, businesses who aren't sponsors, get involved with wearing western gear and putting up decorations. It's really a testament to how a big a part of the community the Stampede is, the entire city gets involved, even in the rain or a down economy. I think the whole fair business, both here and in the states, can learn something from how the do things in Calgary." 

    The Calgary Stampede has been an ongoing event for 104 years, and the Summer and Western traditions have been passed down through generations and embraced by newcomers. 

    Bad weather and a down economy seem easily defeated by the decades of support for this Canadian event. "The community support is really heart felt," said Booth. We've seen some great economic times and some pretty bad economic times, but we're fairly resilient. We are able to plan each year and put out the best Stampede moving forward."

    Rainy days and economic doldrums might mean a down year - circumstances faced by all outdoor events - but the Calgary Stampede is able to roll with the bad times and capitalize on the good times. "We have been fiscally prudent, and we are able to align our work loads with the fair and the grounds, which are 12 months  a year," she said. "We are in a fairly strong position, and prepared for a down year. But we always plan on putting on the best Stampede the next year." 

  • Carnival owner, Dan Driskill, finds therapy through his musical talents
    Dan Driskill engages in heavy metal at both of his jobs. The full-time carnival owner has a side gig as the drummer in an Iron Maiden tribute band.

    Maiden Chicago, the name of the group that calls Chicago home, has performed for the past six years in clubs across Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. Driskill, co-owner of D&J Amusements, pounds the skins on 11-piece customized Ludwig drum kit. It adds up to $15,000 worth of equipment.

    The investment is worth it for Driskill. Everybody in the carnival industry knows the demands of operating an outdoor business largely dependent on the weather. Indoors, in the glare of stage lights, it's a different story. Driskill finds the relief he needs behind the massive drum set at a Maiden Chicago show.

    "It's a huge outlet for me apart from the stress of running the carnival," Driskill said. "It's therapeutic."

    Driskill, whose family ran the old Spectacular Midways for many years, has played drums since he was 9 years old. 

    "Ever since I could reach the pedals," he said. "I played on and off for fun all through school. For a stretch of about eight years, I didn't play because we were always on the road with the carnival. I realized how much much I missed it."

    It's a labor of love for Driskill and his four bandmates, lead singer Bill Swanson, bass player Gary Igram and guitarists Al Contreras and Mike Zatezalo. They're all heavy metal fanatics. On his own, Driskill grew up listening to Judas Priest, KISS, and of course, Iron Maiden, a band formed in London in 1975. 

    Maiden Chicago was launched after Eric Babcock, the band's co-founder, posted a message on Facebook stating his interest in starting an Iron Maiden tribute act. One thing led to another and "five guys who didn't know each other" started the band, Driskill said.

    Babcock left the band in 2012 to join Damaged Justice, a Metallica tribute group. Ralph Circelli, another Maiden Chicago original, now performs in a band called Color Me Dead that plays original music.

    The five current members of Maiden Chicago practice once a week at Driskill's house in Bourbonnais, Ill. Driskill has a soundproof studio set up in his basement. The others come from as far as Lombard and Carpentersville in Chicago's western suburbs to get to Driskill's house in the far south suburbs.

    The pay isn't great, according to Driskill. The band receives between $800 and $1,200 per show depending on the venue. "After it's split between five guys and we pay for hauling the equipment, we're in the hole," he said. "We do it because we enjoy it, and that's why we have other careers. We want to have fun."
    There have been a few moments of glory for Maiden Chicago. In June 2015, the group opened for national act Jackyl during Throttle Fest, a biker event in Grayslake, Ill. 

    Jackyl is known for a hit song called "The Lumberjack," and those who have seen the band live know that lead singer Jesse James Dupree wields a chainsaw during the performance of that particular tune.

    Otherwise, the carnival season effectively restricts Maiden Chicago's performance schedule. The band plays about one show a month over the summer before expanding to a steady stream of weekend dates in the offseason. 

    Maiden Chicago has a website and a YouTube channel. One upcoming date is Aug. 27 at JJ Kelley's in Lansing, Ill.  Bang your head.

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The Industry Buzz
S&S Amusements patriarch, Steve Swika Jr., passes
It is with great regrets to announce the passing of Steve Swika, Jr., owner of Pennsylvania based S&S Amusements.  Steve passed quietly in his sleep on August 19, 2016.  Steve is preceded in death by his wife, Jackie.  Arrangements have been made at Hedley W. Mason Funeral Home, 436 Main Street in Peckville, PA.  Friends may attend Tuesday, August 30, 2 to 5pm or 6 to 9 pm. Funeral services will also be held at Mason Funeral Home on Wednesday, August 31 at 11 am followed by entombment at St. Mary's Mausoleum, Montdale.
  Posted by Matt Cook / Obiturary on 8/22/2016
Industry Veteran Gene McQuater Passes
Industry veteran Gene McQuarter passed away at the age of 83.  Aside from his life-long accomplishments on the midway, Gene also served as the second Treasurer of the St. Louis Showmen's League and holds a lifetime membership card.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.  His funeral arrangements are as follows:

McDaniel Funeral Home
847 N. St. Louis Ave.
Tilden, IL. 62292

Visitation: Sunday August 21 from 4:00-8:00pm and Monday August 22 from 10:00-12:00pm.  Funeral to follow at nearby church.

  Posted by Matt Cook / Obiturary on 8/17/2016
Minnesota State Fair releases Mighty Midway and Kidway equipment lists
The Minnesota State Fair announced its lineup of rides and games for the 2016 Minnesota State Fair, taking place August 25 - September 5 in St. Paul.  Highlighting this years Mighty Midway is the return of S&J Entertainment's Huss Flipper, which took a three year absence from the fair after originally debuting in 2012.  Other returning attractions include the Super Nova and Crazy Mouse Roller Coasters, Magnum, Techno Power, New York New York fun house, Big Bamboo, Hurricane (KMG Fun Factory), Equinox (KMG Tango), Rock It (KMG Inversion), and the Stinger.  

New to the kidway is the Majestic Charlie Chopper, booked by Richard Tinsley and Kenny Bender. 

Both midways will feature a combined total of 61 rides and attractions.

Click here to view a complete list of rides and games booked at the 2016 MN State Fair.

  Posted by Matt Cook on 8/3/2016
Lloyd "Mokey" Choate, Sr. passes
Lloyd "Mokey" Choate, Sr., age 73 of Judsonia, died Monday, July 25, 2016 in Searcy.  Mokey was the owner of Star Amusements of Arkansas and owned several CP Huntington trains. He was born January 26, 1943 in Judsonia, Arkansas to Robert Choate, Sr. and Camella Roseanne Winch Choate. He is survived by one son, Lloyd "Mokey" Choate, Jr. and wife Tonya of Judsonia; two daughters, Luanne Quattlebaum and husband Alan of Judsonia, Phyllisha Swindle and husband Jeremy of Searcy; six grandchildren, Krystal Quattlebaum of Judsonia, Kristin Choate of Judsonia, Trea Choate of Judsonia, Brianna Choate of Judsonia, Hunter Choate of Beebe, Landon Swindle of Searcy; and numerous loving great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins.
  Posted by Obiturary on 8/2/2016
In our efforts to chronicle the history of our industry, we could think of no better way to further this endeavor than to interview industry pioneers and preserve their videos for posterity.

AMUSEMENTS OF AMERICA IS NOW HIRING & BOOKING for the 2016 season!  Employment Inquiries call 
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Concession Boing call 
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Carolina ATM - Providing ATM service, installation, and sales to the Carnival and Amusement Industry

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