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Rides and Concessions at Liberty Park Hopeful to Remain After COVID-19

Posted By Regional Development
September 25, 2020

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Rides and Concessions at Liberty Park

Utah has many hidden and beloved gems.

One of those is the Rides and Concessions at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.

Liberty Park was created and opened in the 1880s, the decade before the first Ferris Wheel was invented and showcased at the World’s Fair. It is among the oldest and most popular parks in the state.

Liberty Park has held many attractions and features in its 100-year history, but it has consistently included amusement rides and concessions.

The Ferris Wheel.

A carousel.

Boats – rowboats, a riverboat, now paddle boats.

A train.

And a whole lot of joy.

“Visitors come all the time and say, ‘Oh, I used to come as a kid and walk here on 13th South,’” owner Craig Silverstein said.

While ownership of the rides varied over the decades, Craig has owned and operated the business for the past nine years. Amusement and carnivals are a nostalgic and cherished part of his life. At the age of 15, Craig got a job working at the Buddies Amusement Park in his Brooklyn neighborhood. (He ended up calling Utah home after he and a bunch of buddies graduated from amusement parks to skiing.)

It takes commitment and time to own and operate rides that emanate nostalgia and the feeling of decades past. It requires constant attention, upkeep, and maintenance to minimize risk and provide safe experiences.

“You don’t see these parks anymore,” Craig said.

While it’s something Salt Lakers might take for granted, visitors are constantly suggesting the operation set up something similar in their own hometowns.

The Ferris Wheel that operates right now in Liberty Park was fully restored and is from 1956. The carousel, while not the original, is thought to date from the 1930s. Craig says it’s hard to find parts for it these days. Old chairs were purchased and restored. New bearings were installed in the past seven years.

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One of Craig’s goals is to raise money to restore the carousel to its glory – fresh, vibrant paint and the works. Once restoration would be complete, he’d make it free to ride.

While Liberty Park in yesteryears past featured a set of train tracks, and train to go with it, Craig now has an electric train to pull kids along, in addition to swings, cars and the popular paddle boats.

In normal years, staff begin dusting off and setting up rides in early spring and operate on weekends until schools let out for the summer. Then, it operates fully through the last weekend of September with 40-45 part-time staff (usually high school teens) until it gets packed up for the winter again.

In 2020, that hasn’t been the case. While staff began setting up rides in February 2020, news and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic in March stopped the operation in its tracks.

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Rides and concessions didn’t open until June, and even then, only on the weekends with increased safety measures and precautions suggested by public health.

Craig saw a 70% decrease for Liberty Park Rides & Concessions in July 2020 compared to July 2019.

To sustain the operations through a part of the pandemic, Craig applied to Salt Lake County’s Small Business Impact Grant and received funds to mitigate the losses.

“The grant is great. … It’s a lifeline, without it we might have even closed,” he said.

Craig voiced that there have been many great programs for struggling business owners like himself, from the Paycheck Protection Program to Tip Your Server.

“The game is to survive. I feel lucky. Think about restaurants. If you do half the volume, you can’t do it,” he said. “You have to improvise and do what you can.”

For now, Craig continues to coach his staff on sanitizing until its last weekend. He hopes Liberty Park Rides will be back to normal in 2021.

“It was good to hear and see people come out,” he said. “They’re craving it more.”