A family affair

Published 12:55 am Sunday, September 21, 2008

It all started when Russell Kissel opened his own pony ride at an amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio. Soon he worked his way up and bought his own park, started doing fairs and carnivals, and the rest is history.

“From that one carnival my grandfather started, it got to be eight or more carnivals,” said Russ Kissel, who inherited what is now Kissel Entertainment from his grandfather. But this company is far more than a one-man show. It is a tradition that has become a family affair.

Russ has four brothers and a sister who are involved in the business one way or another. Then there are his wife, Tammy; his parents, Fred and Mary; and three daughters, Savannah, Paris and Madison. Tammy’s sister and brother-in-law, Victor and Shannon Joseph, help out a lot.

Even Russ’ grandmother, Marie Favaron, who is in her early 80s, still works every day.

“Everybody works, and even people who aren’t related by blood are taken in like family,” Russ says. “Some families have been with us 30 years or longer. It has made it a cool place to work and a fun place to bring our kids.”

By watching what their kids like to do, the Kissels get ideas for new attractions and transfer that over to the fair.

Kissel Entertainment hosts events in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. They sometimes venture into Florida and Mississippi as well.

It takes between 120 and 150 employees to put on any one carnival, depending on the size of the venue. The biggest venues, such as the Northeast Alabama State Fair in Huntsville, require approximately 30 rides.

“It’s rare for us to put all of the rides up in one location because of the expense,” Russ explains.

The cost of operating a carnival is expensive in itself, not to mention transportation costs. This is because on-site generators are powered by diesel fuel.

Obviously, it takes a lot of manpower to transport the rides to and from each place and keep them maintained.

“The guys setting up and tearing down, doing manual labor are just as important as the office folks,” Russ says.

Kissel has strict guidelines that set it apart from similar companies. They do random drug testing and background checks on all employees. The company’s Web site promotes its staff as well groomed and courteous.

“We don’t want just anybody to come in and work,” Russ says. “We want serious people to do a serious job.”

The home office was moved here to Clanton in 2006 when Russ bought the company from his father. It was previously located in Georgia.

The Chilton County Fair in recent years has become an increasingly larger venue for Kissel.

“It’s really growing,” Russ says. “The fair board has done a lot of great work in bringing in more events.”

The fair is going on all this week at the Chilton County Fairgrounds on Airport Road.