MIDDLEBURG — Growing up in a family that provides rides, games and food trucks for carnivals and fairs, Alycia Benner, 27, “waited and waited” to buy her own fried veggie truck to add to the family business this year.
“I finally felt I was in a good place (financially). Then this happened,” she said, talking about statewide shutdowns due to the coronavirus.
But Alycia and her family are not giving in to the virus easily. They’ve already found creative ways to pump revenue into the business.
“We had our food trailers open at our house for a month,” said Christina Benner, owner of the business along with her husband, Kerry, and their grown children Chase, Alycia and Chance. “There were weekends where people would bring their blankets and sit around my yard and have a picnic. Doing social distancing. That was cool.”
Among the favorite foods are funnel cakes, bloomin’ onions and fresh vegetables and cheese that are battered and deep-fried.
For Mother’s Day, the Benners sold stuffed apples with flavors like strawberry cheesecake, chocolate peanut butter, Oreo cookie and candy explosion. Last weekend, they participated in a drive-through event that benefited Mountville Fire Company in Lancaster County. About nine trucks lined up for cars to drive by, pick up their orders and take the food home to eat.
“It was very successful,” Christina said. Between the food and a 50/50 raffle, she said the fire company earned about $10,000 in three days. A Fox43 segment said the fire company earned about $18,000 at last year’s carnival.
Christina is planning on taking her cotton candy and funnel cake trailer to Florida this winter, a time when the Benners typically kick back after a busy summer and maintain and upgrade their rides and equipment. Alycia may come along with her French-fried foods trailer.
The Benners continue to hold out hope for regular summer events, with eight or nine county fairs still “holding strong,” Christina said. The family serves fairs in Bloomsburg and Beaver County and as far away as Huntington and Lebanon Counties.
Christina credited what she called her “fair families” for sticking together and trying to adapt to the new restrictions. The amusement industry tends to follow the lead of parks like Disney World and Universal Studios. Among other things, hand sanitizing stations will be set up at the fairs, and employees will regularly sanitize their own hands.
“Everybody is looking at what we can do to change things but still continue with life,” Christina said. “We’re all trying to look out for each other. It’s our livelihood.”
Alycia had a “love/hate relationship” growing up with the family business, at times staying up late to work then waking up early to head to school. She had no intention of going into the business until she went to college.
“We all love it. It gets frustrating at times,” she said, adding with a laugh, “Don’t ask us if we love it at four o’clock in the morning.”
Christina sympathized with Alycia having to deal with quarantine restrictions the year she bought her own trailer and has to make monthly payments on it.
“She’s going to do it. She’s a hard worker,” Christina said. “My kids grew up doing this. We’re used to working a lot and sleeping very little for six months.”
“We put our hearts into it,” Alycia agreed. “I don’t think any of us can imagine having any other job.”
Going forward, the Benners hope to attend any fairs they can and set up more drive-by events at other fire companies that have had to cancel their annual carnivals.
“They’re also losing a lot of money,” Christina said.
Customers have thanked the Benners for making carnival food available even without the carnivals themselves.
“They thank you for having some kind of normalcy,” Christiana said. “We’ll do what we’ve got to do. Our industry, we’re all scared for each other. But as an industry, we’re resilient. We’re just trying to survive like everyone else.”
“We’re optimistic that, soon, things will go back to normal,” Alycia said. “And we hope we provide a little bit of that normalcy.”
For more information, visit www.pennvalleyshows.com or “Penn Valley Shows” on Facebook.