SJ Entertainment firm, independent entrepreneur credited with Roller Coaster innovations

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Some rides come and go, but others become must-sees. For example, the Crazy Mouse coaster will still appear at the San Diego County Fair, Iowa State Fair, Texas State Fair, Santa’s Enchanted Forest, and other locations. other major centers across the United States, as it has for decades.
Visitors are likely to notice little to no difference, but behind the scenes, carnival businesses have noted that one of the carnival business’s main independent contractors and subcontractors will not be returning to the road.

Steve Vandervorste, founder of SJ Entertainment, has announced his retirement and sold his acclaimed suite of rides, including the aforementioned Crazy Mouse, which was purchased by Wood Entertainment’s Michael Wood, an SDC Windstorm Coaster, acquired by Ray Cammack Shows and a Huss Pinball, acquired by Helm & Sons Amusements.

The good moment

“I’m retired at this point,” Vandervoste said. “This will be my first summer at home except for the COVID lockdown. I will miss the camaraderie and friendship of the people at the fair, the managers and people at the carnival and the food dealers, so many great people are in this business, and they are the ones I will definitely miss the most.

A wave of carnival and related businesses closed shop during and/or due to COVID, while the lockdown and loss of revenue was the most obvious direct cause, the crisis seemed to act more as an accelerating catalyst inevitable closure. COVID as a factor is undeniable, but Vandervorste pointed to a streak of other factors, as well as personal health issues, that contributed to his decision to say goodbye graciously.

“I’m 67 and thought I wasn’t getting any younger and I have seven grandkids I’d love to spend time with,” Vandervoste said. “I think with the coronavirus, in 2020 we got used to being at home and 2021 was a very difficult year to find workers and this problem is only getting worse. With Russia invading Ukraine and rising fuel prices and everything else I think I made the right decision there’s going to be a lot of work this year for returns below those of last year.

Michael Wood of Wood Entertainment, a colleague of Vandervoste for over 20 years and now the current guardian of the Crazy Mouse, is also a leading freelance contractor and contractor, who has had him play numerous dates alongside SJEntertainment. “We have been competitors and very good friends and if anyone deserves a little rest it is Steve. I sincerely wish him well. He was an innovator and a rollercoaster lover. A manager of the fair texted me the other day thanking me for bringing the Crazy Mouse back, there was a picture with the grandkids.

COVID Challenges

Navigating through the turmoil of the pandemic era has been a challenge for all segments of the outdoor events industry, but the impact on independent entrepreneurs has been particularly acute. “Single-tier independent contractors have had the same struggles as any business,” Wood said. “In 2019 we made money but we struggled with the H2B situation and ultimately COVID multiplied those issues. A lot of us came out in 2021 and made a lot of money, had the best years, but they fought and worked very hard for it.

By his own admission, Steve grew up halfway. His father, Dick Vandervorste, owned Van Equipment Company, an independent contractor that for a time specialized in kiddie rides. Among Steve’s earliest memories are his ather having dinner with Ray Cammack, Guy Leavitt, Al Brown and John Hanschen, “I remember they were together. It was in South Dakota, I was born in Sioux Falls and my parents invited them to dinner.

The father and son team worked together until the former retired and formed SJ Entertainment in the early 2000s. “In the 80s we had a portable Log Flume ride that worked great. We also had a Zyklon roller coaster. The Crazy Mouse, which I’ve had for about 20 years, is also a unique design that has worked very well. It’s a rotating roller coaster, a great family ride for young and old. He has always been popular. I’m glad it’s still part of the fairs.
According to Wood, the lasting impact that this independent father and son carnival company team had on the midways will continue. “You’ve never seen these types of revolving coasters before at fairs in the United States. The majority of American carnival companies were naysayers, they thought they would never work here. He was the first to bring a portable Crazy Mouse coaster.

Educated Guesses

While roller coaster diversity may now be the rule, not the exception at most major fairs, back then few had Vandervoste’s foresight. “All the rides that are popular in Europe cannot be popular in the United States. Steve and his dad were gamblers in the sense that they were willing to bet on new rides and they often bet right. They made some of the most educated guesses in the business. ”

According to Wood, the measure of a ride’s success comes in the third year, when the novelty has worn off. Will the fairgoers ride a third year? “He was brave enough to find a ride that would attract regulars. They were good years three, four, five and beyond. His rides are always in the money, and that gives them longevity.

He added. “Steve’s rides have been a dependable and dependable part of the best fairs in the country. He has a proven track record. It saw rides for the largest segment of visitors. He is full-time focused on the equipment he provides, with rides that are unique, popular, have special needs and can be a lot of work, but these are rides that people don’t want to leave the fair until they didn’t mount them. .”

With major carnival companies splitting into units and key pieces of SJ Entertainment being acquired by existing companies already playing the same path, it seems like the days of the independent entrepreneur with a selection of unique pieces to fill in the gaps halfway can be numbered. “It’s a different business model than what you have today,” Wood said. “In today’s world of work, it is more difficult to find workers and commuting is very labour-intensive. Small businesses are the ones that didn’t survive COVID.

What the future holds for independent contractors may be uncertain, but in the past a keen eye for equipment and an understanding of what visitors wanted helped make Vandervorste a mid-point staple of some of the largest fairs in the country. “Even back with my father, we never kept the contract,” Vandervorste said. “We have always been independent. We did what we knew best. We have been in some fairs for a long time, 35 in San Diego, 25 in Minnesota State Fair. Lots of great memories, and we’re a big part of summer for a lot of people.

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