UNIONDALE, N.Y. — As the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performed its second-to-last show Sunday afternoon, a group of retired and former circus performers sat across the street at a hotel bar, laughing and hugging and sharing memories of tours past.

“There’s a lot of mixed emotions,” said the Rev. George “Jerry” Hogan, Ringling’s circus chaplain. “It’s a reunion, but it’s bittersweet. I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in years.”

Known as Father Jerry, the Catholic chaplain waved at a group of clowns at the bar. Nearly all of the folks at the bar said they were headed to the final 7 p.m. performance, but first they needed a trip down memory lane with people who were, and always will be, part of a unique family.

“It’s 146 years of tradition, older than American baseball,” said David Gregg, a clown from Hollywood, Florida. “This was one of the last nomadic tribes running around the country.”

The circus has wowed crowds for decades with its “Greatest Show on Earth.” The final performance was at the Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, about 30 miles east of New York City.

Ringling’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January that it would close the show, citing declining attendance and high operating costs.

Kenneth Feld, whose father and uncle bought the circus in 1967, called Sunday’s shows “a celebration.” The circus was sold to Mattel in 1971, but the Feld family continued to manage the shows, then bought the circus back in 1982.

“We all have to embrace change,” he said. “But there is a love for the circus that will never die.” Over the years, animal rights activists had targeted the circus, saying that forcing animals to perform and transporting them around the country amounted to abuse. And in May 2016, the company removed elephants from its shows, but ticket sales continued to decline.

Once a mainstay of entertainment in small towns and big cities across the country, Ringling had two touring circuses this season, one of which ended its run earlier this month in Providence, Rhode Island. That show was the more traditional three-ring circus, while the one performing this weekend has a narrative storyline. Called “Out of This World,” it’s set in futuristic outer space, with Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson narrating in his signature baritone.

In the end, Feld executives said they knew the circus couldn’t compete with iPhones, the internet, video games and massively branded and carefully marketed characters. Their other productions – Frozen on Ice, Marvel Live, Supercross, Monster Trucks, Disney on Ice – resonate better with younger generations.