Cotton candy, caramel apples, try-your-luck games and rides returned to Dunn for the first time in two years.
Dozens of workers with Deggeler Attractions Inc. spent Friday transforming the Walmart parking lot into a mini-amusement park as Dunn’s annual carnival sprung back to life after losing its battle with COVID-19 a year ago.
The coronavirus pandemic shuttered the carnival in 2020, but a new year brought new hope, and so far, so good.
“We’ve come here before and always got a pretty good crowd,” Dale Negus, concession manager for Deggeler Attractions, said. “I think this year it will be even better. Hopefully, we’ll see even bigger crowds and our confidence is pretty high, at least mine is.”
Negus based his expectations on the turnout from the carnivals’ previous stops in Florida, where enthusiastic crowds showed up ready for a taste of normalcy. And plenty of sugar.
“People seem very happy to be entertained and we’ve had tremendous crowds,” said Negus. “We just left Florida recently and had a good time. It’s been tremendous, it really has.”
For a company like Deggeler Attractions that relies so heavily on attracting crowds of people, the COVID-19 pandemic proved devastating. What was supposed to be a short suspension last spring turned into nearly a year-long hiatus as workers tried to supplement their incomes any way possible.
“We started off last year and worked about six weeks before we got shut off for what we thought was temporary,” Negus said. “It just kept going and going and we didn’t work at all the rest of the year. We did a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and we had some economic impact loans, and stuff like that but it was hard.”
With COVID restrictions easing across the state, Negus said certain safety precautions like social distancing will remain in place for the carnival’s week-long stay in Dunn, but visitors generally take whatever steps they feel are necessary.
“We’ve had no problems, thank God,” said Negus. “Some people wear masks, some people choose not to wear a mask. All the employees wear masks and we clean the rides and sanitize stations and do what we need to do to keep people safe.”
More than 100 employees arrived in Dunn to set up the carnival, creating a miniature RV village next door to the attraction. The carnival travels to dozens of locations throughout the year and workers simply pack up and move with it.
Dunn’s carnival does more than provide entertainment, as a portion of the proceeds go to the Dunn Police Athletic and Activities League (PAL), a nonprofit organization that works with local youth, offering after school and sports programs.
“On the fundraising side, the carnival is very important because it helps our athletic programs and some of our other programs our youth can’t afford,” Dunn PAL Director Rodney Rowland said. “This serves the community as well because people can go out and do things locally and not just sit around the house.”
Seeing the carnival return, Rowland said, offered a taste of normalcy he feels the city has sorely missed for the past year.
“We are excited to be able to bring the carnival back to the community,” said Rowland. “Everybody has been kind of couped up with nowhere to go and we’re excited to offer the carnival locally so people don’t need to find somewhere to go.”
The carnival is scheduled to be in Dunn until May 9. Attractions open at 5 p.m. during the week and 2 p.m. on the weekends.
Eliot Duke can be reached at email@example.com or at 910-230-2038.