The Oaks Mall parking lot was transformed into a vibrant, funnel-cake scented carnival Thursday afternoon.
The annual Oaks Mall Carnival opened its gates nine months later than anticipated this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will remain open until Nov. 15.
This year’s carnival features a variety of rides coated in disinfectant, traditional carnival foods served by latex-glove-covered hands and masked smiling faces, all condensed into a corner of the parking lot.
David Erickson, the marketing director for Dreamland Amusements, said his company has put a lot of effort in to deliver a true American carnival experience to families without the expense of their health.
“We’ve spent a lot of money on COVID precautions,” he said. “People just have to be responsible for themselves and we, as a company, have to be responsible in how we act. We’ve done what we can to continue forward with the new normal and still have some fun.”
He said his company spent about $400 alone on batteries for the automatic hand sanitizer dispensers, which amount to more than the number of rides at the carnival. These expenses have impacted Dreamland Amusements’ budget, according to Erickson, and he is anticipating higher ticket sales to make up for it.
Michael Davis, manager at Dreamland Amusements, said he was expecting a lower turnout this year, but was pleasantly surprised when advance online sales nearly doubled.
“What this tells me is that people are out there searching for something to do,” he said. “This may wind up being a positive thing. When we hit town and started setting up the rides, our Facebook and online sales started to blow up, which was not really what we expected.”
Aside from the increase in ticket sales, Erickson believes the carnival will be a success if families are enjoying themselves.
Gainesville resident Nicolas Collada said he’s thankful to be able to go out to the carnival and spend a night with his three younger brothers.
“My brothers and I always go to the Oaks Mall Carnival and ride The Zipper,” he said. “Going on rides is one of the few things we all enjoy doing. I used to go here with friends every year in high school, too.”
Erickson said the main reason he was able to bring the carnival to Gainesville was the governor’s phase three COVID-19 re-opening plan.
“We’re happy to be back in business,” he said. “The alternative would have been to go out of business, which you know isn’t something we want to have happen. We’ve put years of work into this show to make it great and it has a certain edge. It’s an American tradition.”
Admission and parking for the carnival are free. Tickets, hours and COVID-19 policies can be found on Dreamland Amusements’ website.