COVID-19 Dims Lights Of Mercedes-Based Carnival Companies
Ricky Moore had never spent a summer in Texas before.
By the first of June, he was up north somewhere – Kansas or maybe Colorado – setting up one of his carnivals. Moore’s Greater Shows is a family tradition as is the one of his brother, Garry Moore Amusements, with both based in Mercedes.
The Moore brothers grew up in the carnival business, learning from their father, Jay Harvey Moore, who took after his father, Jake, who started out the carnivals in the 1920s.
“There’s a saying,’’ Ricky said, “that carnival people are never unemployed, but we are now.’’
Off Mile 2 East Road, the Moore brothers and their grown children sit adjacent to their carnival rides – stationary and still for months – and talk wistfully of how COVID-19 has knocked them off their years-long stride. The virus outbreak has dimmed the lights and hustle-and-bustle of the carnival life and its operators.
It’s why the Moore brothers spent their first summer in the South Texas heat instead of being up in the Midwest somewhere in usually cooler temperatures, seeing smiling faces and rides spinning in some town in Kansas.
“It’s hard sitting here and waiting,’’ Garry Moore said. “We never thought something like this would happen. You can’t be lazy in the carnival business, but here we sit when we just want to get back up and open up.’’
That’s an impossibility with COVID-19 still spreading across the country. The whole industry, the brothers said, is dormant, hoping 2021 brings an end to a virus that has decimated their business. It’s a tough one for the Moore clan, who first came to Mercedes in 1970 when Jay Harvey Moore relocated his family here from Laredo.
The Moore brothers were young men then, but already knew the carnival life they grew up in would continue to be their passion. Following their father’s lead, they would establish their own carnival companies. Ricky spoke of hitting the county fairs across America year-after-year, working with Veterans of Foreign Wars and Lion’s Club to help them out with their fundraising, seeing familiar and friendly faces.
“You keep your equipment up, keep your reputation up, and people want you back next year,’’ Ricky said. “It’s in our blood. It’s all we’ve ever done.’’
The winter months would be their down time in Mercedes. The brothers and their grown children who share a love for the business would work on giving the rides a repainting, work on any electrical issues, and gear up for the spring season. Many of the rides are now computerized and carry hefty price tags to purchase – well into the six figures – and lighting systems have gotten much more sophisticated than in the eras of their grandfathers and great-grandfather.
“We’ve got payments to make,’’ said Jack Moore, Garry’s son, of some of the new equipment and rides.
He pointed to a new ride that has hardly seen any use. The last carnival the Moore families did was in early 2020. They miss it.
“It’s always great to see the lights lit up and the smiles of kids when we open up in a town,’’ Jack Moore said.
For now, feeling that excitement will have to wait. The end of COVID-19 can’t come soon enough for a carnival family eager to travel the highways of America from their home base in Mercedes.
“It’s going to be great when everyone can open up again,’’ Ricky Martin said. “We hope that will be sooner than later.’’
- Ricardo D. Cavazos