GIBSONTON, Fla. - The annual International Showman’s trade show, put on by the Gibsonton-based International Showman’s Association in southern Hillsborough County, was "almost decimated" this year by COVID-19, according to its organizer, Lee Stevens.
It's usually slides, rides, and smiles as far as you can see, but they're fewer and further between in 2021.
The carnival industry is said to be recession-proof, so there are still all kinds of carnival rides, games, and equipment for sale in the event's 52nd year.
"Now we find out it's not virus-proof," offered Todd Kunz of Galaxy Amusement and Sales.
The International Showman's trade show in Gibsonton, Florida
His semi-trucks usually travel coast-to-coast with carnivals, selling operators everything from lighted signs to roller coaster wheels.
"Thousands of carnivals all across North America were totally shut down," he said. "And it’s a shame because there’s a lot of industries still open."
Equipment now sits idle in Gibsonton, the heart of America’s carnival industry. The community has been on a roller coast locked in a downward plunge.
"There are a lot of families and people in this industry that need help just like a restaurant or anything else," said Brian Woodke of Amusement Devices and Manufacturing. "They’re all trying to make an honest living."
The ride could turn smoother for the carnival industry with the Florida Strawberry Festival next month and the Florida State Fair in April. It was moved from February because of the pandemic.
Jean Leonard hopes it brings a boost to her company, Midway Tents.
"I think Florida is going to do great," she insisted. "I think Florida will be a benchmark for the rest of the country. If we can have Disney World open, Busch Gardens, fairs and festivals, so can the rest of the country."
After a sad year in an industry that was built to bring smiles, they’re optimistic -- hoping for a lot less coronavirus and a lot more carnivals.
"We have to be," added Stevens. "The show must go on. That’s what we do."