Blue Sky Amusements has best season in 45 years – Show looks to add gear
Blue Sky Amusements had a banner year in 2021. After being in the business for over 40 years, show owner Bill Reiss can confidently say this has been the best season he has ever seen. . However, despite community support and increased revenue, Reiss still faced a host of challenges when deciding to open his show and run in 2021 after a canceled 2020 season.
“We operated a partial route in 2021, many of my fire department and church dates were canceled and we rushed to fill those weeks in malls and smaller places,” says Reiss. “With good promotion, we performed very well in these new locations. And the fire and church spots that ran in 2021 were all up nearly 50%. Canceled events weren’t the only challenges Reiss faced as he prepared to reopen. He bought a ride in 2020 about two weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States. Working with an overseas ride manufacturer, Reiss put a $25,000 deposit on the ride and was unable to get his money back even though he never took delivery of the equipment. “Personally, I will no longer do business with any foreign company. I cannot have recourse against them. They tried to tell me they would catch me when the pandemic was over, but then I really could have used the money since we were staying home the rest of the year,” says Reiss. .
In 2020, Blue Sky Amusements’ scope of business was a $1,200 rental for its performance hall to complete a project that required older rides for a ghost amusement park. “We knew 2021 had to be different,” says Reiss. Fortunately, he was able to recruit the H-2B employees he relies on every year.
“Thank goodness,” Reiss said. “Without them, we would be bankrupt. I only have about five American employees. Nobody wants to work. My H-2B employees are fantastic, but every year I have to worry about whether I’ll get them or not. Like all carnival owners in 2021, Reiss struggled to find qualified drivers to pull loads. He tried to hire at $45-$50 an hour and still had problems.
Looking ahead to 2022, Reiss has kept all of its old accounts and even taken over new fairs. “We will be working with Reithoffer Shows at the New Jersey State Fair,” says Reiss. Blue Sky Amusements used to travel along the East Coast, but now it travels at most 100 miles in each direction. “I follow the ‘keep it small and keep it all’ philosophy,” he says. At its 2021 events, Reiss has made a special effort to ensure guests feel safe at its events. “We sprayed the rides to sanitize them and had hand sanitizer stations available at every ride and food stall. Our employees were masked and we encouraged guests to wear masks which we made available free of charge at our counters,” he says. The public response was certainly encouraging, and Reiss recalls feeling that people were excited to come out and have fun. “Quarantines and lockdowns were unbearable for many families. People had money for carnival and wanted to spend it,” he says. Labor shortages created problems and rides often had to be closed due to lack of employees, but revelers were patient and understanding.
Based on his 14-acre lot in East Moriches, Long Island, Reiss balances business and pleasure. “I can hunt deer in my garden in the morning and fix rides during the day. We do a lot of work in New Jersey and some on Long Island, but I stay out of town,” he says. Reiss runs the show with his family, including his wife, Susan; children Billy, Michael and Catherine; sister-in-law, Kathleen Keffas and her husband John; brother-in-law Steve; and grandson and granddaughter. Currently, Blue Sky Amusements has nearly 36 rides as well as several food stalls and games. “We have very few independent operators around us and really keep that in the family. My wife owns the ice cream and cotton candy stands, my son Billy has a taco stand, and my daughter had a duck pond and water gun games,” says Reiss.
Billy & Daughter Quinn, Susan & Bill and Michael Reiss attend the 2020 Gibtown Show
Describing himself as a man of his word with high standards for his family and employees, Reiss believes that if he puts on a good quality show, events and opportunities will keep coming. Most Blue Sky Amusements events have been on the course for almost 40 years. “Our churches and fire departments have been using our show for a long time. They appreciate our equipment and our employees. I enforce strict uniform guidelines and make sure everyone is polite, courteous and clean. I also demanded that my employees be vaccinated against Covid,” explains Reiss.
Ahead of the start of the 2022 season, Reiss is grateful to be back in winter quarters and ready for a break. “I will be 70 this year. I had to cram in the truck and pull a lot of loads this season,” says Reiss. His brothers-in-law Steve and John, and his sons Billy and Michael run the day-to-day operations of the two units of Blue Sky Amusements. “They do a great job for the show and we’re one big happy family running this business together,” Reiss says.
Blue Sky Amusements usually begins the season in April and runs through August with Churches and Firefighters, then ends the season with fairs through the second or third week of October. “I hope we will have the same number of people and income as this year, but it all depends on Covid,” says Reiss. To complete his arsenal of rides, Reiss is looking to buy something new but only wants to buy from an American company due to the incident he had with a foreign company in 2020. While he’s back at home, Reiss plans to redo a few of his standard rides: his Chance Carousel and his bumper cars. “I just sent my Zipper in to be rebuilt by Mike Featherston for this coming year. It will be like new,” he says.
“It’s good to make money, but it’s also good to sit back and relax after 45 years. I paid my dues in this company,” says Reiss. He started out as a 10-year-old looking for a job when Carnival came to Patchogue. John Taylor was a dealership running games who gave Reiss his first job. “I think I had $1 a day and any dinner I wanted,” Reiss says. He then worked for a gentleman in New York who held a carnival alongside his work at the NYPD in the 1960s. Eventually Reiss branched out in 1981 and, with a partner, built Silver Dollar Shows. “We broke up in 2003 and went our own way,” Reiss explains. For him, the entertainment business is valuable; “I met my wife at a tipping tournament at the Green Lawn fire fair. I was leading the ride and this girl and her three friends cut the line and I just had to meet her. It was there is 47. I still have that tilt-a-whirl now,” says Reiss. Currently, Reiss is sitting at home spending time with his granddaughter, Quinn, and grandson, Kaidon spending quality family time before the hard work begins again.