Her arms were overloaded with an assortment of stuffed toy animals, hats and other trinkets.
A huge grin spread across the face of Sue Morris, as she bounded through Muskegon Summer Celebration’s Midway.
“This is so much fun,” said Morris, a Portage resident who was carrying the carnival bounty for her 12-year-old niece, Kayla Carpenter. “This brings back so many memories.
“When I was her age, my favorite game was the darts. I was better at them than everybody else.”
Carnival games are as much an American tradition as baseball and apple pie. But this summer, carnival workers are noticing a severe drop in attendance. And, that’s not just here.
“It’s kind of slow because of the economy,” said Dale Boggs, who manages the “Long Range Basketball” shooting game at Muskegon Summer Celebration. “People just aren’t coming out anymore.”
Boggs, 25, works for a carnival game company based in Gibsonton, Fla. The son of a longtime carnival worker, Boggs travels the U.S. festival circuit much of the year.
“My mom was an old-time carney,” said Boggs, who was born in Escanaba. “It’s been in my blood a long time.”
Angel Davis, who has been supervising the “Ring a Bottle” game booth at the Playworld Amusement’s Midway, wasn’t having much luck attracting customers this past week — even after reducing the cost of playing the game from $3 to $2 for 10 rings and offering a free hat to anybody who just tried to play the game. Game players who successfully tossed a ring around a glass Coke bottle won their choice of an array of colorful stuffed dragons.
“You’re the first person to come to my booth today,” a dejected Boggs admitted on an evening earlier in the week.
“It’s one of the oldest games in the Midway,” said Boggs. “We’ve survived all the challenges of technology.”
But, she added, festival-goers are being more thrifty than in past years.
That was the case for sisters Tyler and Madison Heffron and cousin Robert Sukup who had to choose between concerts or the Midway this year.
“This is the first year I didn’t get a Summer Celebration pass,” said 16-year-old Tyler Heffron, of Muskegon. “But, I’m still coming down here to hang out with my friends.”
Even the perennially popular “Tuggie Lucky Ducky” booth noticed a drop-off in business this year.
The game, which is popular with younger children, requires contests to pick a small plastic duck from a pool of water. A number printed on the bottom of the duck indicates what prize is won.
“Everybody wins, everybody get’s a prize,” Mendoza shouted to a handful of passersby more interested in munching on fried onion rings.
Festival organizers this year implemented a $5 Midway admission fee so that the venue can generate some revenue.
Midway carnival games aren’t as popular as they once were, acknowledged festival director Joe Austin. He’s not sure whether that’s because of the economy or because traditional carnival games don’t generate as much excitement among a younger generation that has grown up playing fast-paced, video games that come with realistic graphics and sounds.
“We’re going to have to look at the Midway next year and see if we need to make some changes,” said Austin.
Not everyone agrees.
Del Orcutt, 36 of Muskegon, hopes traditional carnival games never go away.
“I’m still a kid at heart,” admitted Orcutt, who accompanied his 10-year-old daughter Sanya to the Midway on Wednesday. “The carnival is what we come here for. It’s good family fun.”