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Arbutus Fire Department cancels carnival, ending 70-year tradition

After a 70-year run, the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department’s annual carnival will not be coming back this summer, department president John McDowell said.

“It was a business decision,” McDowell said. “When you look at the hours invested and the return on investment, it just didn’t make good business sense.”

The end of the carnival marks the demise of a multigenerational tradition, said Greater Arbutus Business Association President Bettina Tebo, who volunteered at the carnival for 28 of the past 30 years.

“That’s what you did — if you lived in Arbutus, you went to the carnival,” Tebo said. “You went there, your kids went there, your grandkids went there.”

“It’s a shame to see it go,” she said.

Glen Peacock, the chairman of the committee that runs the carnival, said that a large part of the decision was because Shaw and Sons Entertainment, the company that ran the carnival, decided not to return.

Shaw and Sons Entertainment could not immediately be reached for comment.

“There’s only a couple other carnival companies that are out there,” Peacock said, adding that the amount of money those companies would share with the department would not be worth it.

The annual carnival, held in the department’s parking lot, was one of the department’s largest fundraisers each year, bringing in close to $30,000, depending on the weather, Peacock said.

But in recent years, attendance and profits declined, Peacock said. Last year’s carnival, plagued by temperatures higher than 100 degrees and rain, only brought in about $18,000.

The year before, attendance was down about 20 percent after news of a brawl between two teenage girls that drew a crowd and spilled onto East Drive spread on social media.

Those profits, Peacock said, pale in comparison to the number of volunteers and hours required to put on the carnival — about 80 volunteers working at least 30 hours each year.

“It takes a lot of effort, membership, support and money to run these events,” Peacock said.

And for all that effort, Peacock and McDowell said, the payoff had dwindled as urban carnivals fall out of fashion.

“Crowds have been diminishing over the years,” McDowell said. “Urban carnivals are fading; there’s just a lot of competing activities.”

“People make decisions. They say, ‘I’ve got so much money in my pocket, where am I going to spend it for entertainment?’”

The problem, Peacock said, was compounded by the fact that the cost of putting on a carnival has risen with inflation — a trip to the carnival these days, he said, could cost a family of four more than $100.

“People just don’t have that money anymore,” he said.

To fill the time and replace the revenue from the carnival, McDowell said the department is “brainstorming” ideas for what to do in the third week in July, when the carnival is usually held.

Some ideas they are exploring include a food truck festival or some type of cook-off competition.

Peacock said he does not believe the carnival will come back.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people, disappointed kids in the community,” Peacock said. “I, for one, hate to see it go.”

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