June 30, 2013

Carnivals a labor of love for Clinton men

Despite challenges and negative stereotypes, they give their all to a business that they were born into.

By JESSE SCARDINA Morning Sentinel

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East Coast Midways owners are Billy Swafford, left, and Faron Young.

Photos by Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

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Adam Trott, 25, left, and Tim Siwek, 32, install a horse on one of the company’s merry-go-rounds Tuesday in Fairfield.

Even so, the company has expanded during each of its first three years. It jumped from five to nine rides in its second off-season before buying six more last winter with plans to add another five or six this winter.

"Right now, we have about $30,000 a month in ride payments six months of the year," Swafford said. "Next year that cuts down to about $10,000. A lot of our notes are paid out next year."

While the first two years Swafford and Young had to promote their company actively, that changed recently.

"Last winter it really started to come together," Swafford said. "We started to get some phone calls. People in Maryland started calling us. A guy in Florida called us. We just signed the Cheshire Fair in New Hampshire (starting next year), which is one of the biggest fairs in New England."

Still, Swafford said he hopes to start booking more in Maine, since East Coast Midways is a Maine business.

"We have several Maine fair committees coming out to see us next week in Thomaston," Swafford said. "They'll come and look at the equipment and our rides -- (we'll) show them we're not some ragtag operation.

"They don't understand that I'm new to East Coast Midways. I'm not new to the industry."

 'I WAS TOO GENEROUS'

While in the process of moving the entire business to Clinton, Swafford is finalizing the purchase of three acres in Clinton to build a facility that will store all the rides and equipment as well as provide space and technology to repair the equipment.

"The facility will have an electrical shop and paint shop," Swafford said. "It's probably looking at $700,000 to build, but Clinton's going to be the heart of the business. It's going to be the home of the show. We're a legitimate Maine corporation."

While East Coast Midways is close to becoming a full-fledged local carnival business based in Clinton, the annual Clinton Fair voted against contracting with the local carnival company, instead choosing Cushing Amusements, of Massachusetts, with which it has contracted for more than 30 years. East Coast Midways tried to earn the contract this past winter.

"They tend to not like change," Swafford said. "They've been with the same show for 36 years. That's the only thing I can sum it up to be."

According to Swafford, he offered a larger percentage of his ticket sales than his competitor, offered to pay for the fireworks and was willing to start two scholarships for $2,500 each to benefit local children.

"I offered a lot of money because it is my community," Swafford said. "They are my neighbors. The Clinton Fair's motto is 'A weekend at the fair turns out to be a year of community service.' I'm a part of their community. They should at least give me the option."

Fair secretary Buddy Frost, 68, said that while Swafford and East Coast Midways' pitch was generous, he was worried about whether they'd be able to keep up their end of the contract. 

"If he hadn't offered quite so much, it probably would have been better," Frost said. "We've had Cushing Amusements for so many years, it wouldn't be fair to leave them." 

Frost did say that the fair committee voted on the decision for the first time in nearly 30 years. 

"This was the first year we even considered someone else," Frost said.  

Frost said he's going to keep an eye on East Coast Midways and won't rule out contracting with the company in the future. 

"I would prefer it to be someone from in-state," Frost said.

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