Tuesday, October 26, 2010 

Almost November and I can't wait for an end to descriptions of the current election cycle as a "circus." Circus is an honorable trade, politics on the otherhand....

Thursday, October 07, 2010 

Bear with me. This is actually about circus. With several shows now almost home, it seems like a pretty good time to look at 2010 and beyond. The good news, most shows weathered the season despite the continued weakness in the US economy. The bad news, the US economy is still on life support and plenty of taxpayers are frustrated and ready to pull the plug. For not-for-profit circus and circus programs, charitable giving is still well below pre-recessionary levels. The Bush/Obama economic brain trust was great at bailing out financial institutions and car companies, but only recently has government agreed to funnel money to small and smaller business, the kind of homegrown manufacturers and retailers who quietly generous. Stimulus money has certainly benefited those in infrastructure construction and related business – though job creation hasn’t lived up to expectation – but that enormous new debt did nothing to solve foreclosures and continued weakness in housing. Ten show that historically stayed in the black in areas of southern California are still looking at virtual ghost towns in the Imperial Valley and in counties where foreclosures have emptied entire subdivisions. It’s likely still tough for a traditional tent show to make a dime south of Bakerfield.

What has continued to assist tent shows through this recession is the disconnect between economic statistics and economic reality. In “hard times” we love distraction. Movies are doing well. With tickets for 3-D films running close to #20 in some places, circus is a genuine bargain. Moreover even when unemployment is 10%, 85% of the workforce is still punching a clock (5% have just given up) and while a third may be under-employed and struggling, the clear majority of Americans continue to have disposable income. Again, that doesn’t do much to brighten the picture in Barstow, orf in Victorville or in those areas of Illinois where the downturn appears to be getting deeper and deeper, but in a few areas of Michigan things are looking up… And in the natural gas fields of Pennsylvania and the upper Appalachians there’s a modest economic boom. Consumer sentiment remains negative, but families are acutely aware of a good deal. A #20 dollar circus ticket may be the kiss of death, but a $15 dollar ticket sounds reasonable.

Economists are cautiously optimistic. While it wouldn’t take much to send the US economy back into Recession, slight improvements in manufacturing, retail, and job growth in 2010 seems to signal a long, slow recovery – like Japan in the 1990s rather than a significant worsening in the picture for 2011. Assuming major changes in the make-up of Congress at least some attempt will be made to pay down debt. It may be 2012 or even 2013 before the economy is ready to give us all a really good circus season with easy spending – but assuming oil prices remain below $95 a barrel 2011 should show biz a little more cash at the end of the season than did 2010.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010 

Work, work, work. It's real, it's fun, but it's not real fun. Have been managing concession for a couple art house movie theaters. Spend too much time rebuilding Paragon poppers. Today was the big meeting addressing the age old question... "Why are our per caps so low?" Over the past year the ten screens have averaged only $1.60 per ticket in concessions spending. Pretty awful. In the last couple months it seems pretty obvious to me... Red Zinger Iced Tea and homemade baked goods aren't going to make anybody rich. In point of fact my "list" was a bit more constructive... The Cornelius soda dispenser from Pepsi using premix is slow and expensive and drawing a diet drink takes minutes not seconds. If the theaters don't want to go with bag-in-box, 2 liters pour faster and have a better mark-up than premix. It's all well and good to sell corn for six bucks a bucket, but if you have a dozen extra "flavors" from nutritional yeast to chili powder too much time goes into serving. Half the line melts away waiting while a single customer asks for butter, and yeast, and grated cheese, and "eastern spices" ... all for an additional .50 cents. To date my "nachos" plea had fallen upon deaf ears. Just a bit too unhealthy in community where they would stick to granola bars and apples if they could get away with it. Speaking of which...if "organic" cider sells for $8 a gallon, selling a 16 oz cup for $2.50 doesn't pad teh per cap much either. Anyway...

Driving down Route 13 from Triphammer Road into Ithaca in the rain this afternoon, looking at the first bare trees of the autumn I saw the faded Kelly Miller arrows from July still afixed to a sign post. Chris Beckett knows how to apply tape! And wistfully I realized that soon many shows will be back in winter quarters and I missed most of a circus season. My own fault, that one. Last Saturday Cornell University snapped a ten game losing streak playing grid iron football, rolling over Bucknell. I love college football but it's really, really hard to take the Ivy League seriously. Made me wish Trey Key was nearby to talk about real teams, real schools, with real programs. I suppose I could get excited about Syracuse, but then I'd tear up thinking about the glory days of Jim Brown.

Let this be a lesson. Even a bad day on a circus is better than most good days in town. I already knew that, I just forgot for a while.

Oh, and never, ever convince yourself that Red Zinger makes for a grand iced tea. Stick with the sodas.