Standing in a sanctuary for endangered species -- hand carved wooden animals from a bygone era -- members of the Carousel Society of the Niagara Frontier Inc. Friday announced the purchase of a business aimed at generating enough money to prevent the extinction of a North Tonawanda museum.
The society has bought the remaining assets of the historic Allan Herschell Co. from Chance Industries Inc. of Wichita, Kansas. Trustees are scouting for a site in North Tonawanda to open a new business that will supply parts to operators of more than 600 rides scattered in amusement parks across the nation. The customer list includes Martin's Fantasy Island, Busch Gardens and the Six Flags amusement parks.
The Allan Herschell Co. operated in North Tonawanda from 1872 until 1959. In its heyday, it was the world's largest manufacturer of rides, producing thousands of carousels, games and other amusement park attractions.
The parts business will operate under the Allan Herschell Co. name and is expected to be fully operational by early March. It initially will employ two full-time and at least one part-time worker.
Society Trustee Edward Januli-onis said the goal is to create a permanent revenue stream for the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, a 14,000-square-foot facility at 180 Thompson St., which has fallen on tough times. Admission income has declined in recent years and the number of bus tours has plummeted by more than half.
"The museum is at a financial crossroads," Janulionis said. "It's being squeezed considerably. If this new business doesn't work, there might not even be a museum in the future."
The society paid Chance Industries $189,000 for the Herschell assets. Half of the sale price was underwritten by an anonymous benefactor. Trustees also credited the Baird Foundation for providing assistance and advice.
Janulionis said Chance Industries had annual sales of about $500,000, but he's convinced revenue can be increased, noting that no other manufacturer in the country is making parts for Allan Herschell rides.
"We're going to market this business," he said. "We want to grow the company. I would be disappointed if we couldn't net $100,000 within a year or so."
Elizabeth Brick, museum director, said the purchase of more than 2,000 ride blueprints, letters and other artifacts will help to give the facility a fresh look. Visitors will see changing exhibits.
"Kids love to learn about rides and how they work," Ms. Brick said. "This acquisition will be a major boost to the museum's collection."
Founded in 1983, the museum attracts about 20,000 visitors each year. People from across the country come to ride a 1916 carousel, participate in woodcarving and art classes and view thousands of arti-facts that shed light on a unique business legacy.
Herschell was an industry leader from the time he introduced his first steam-driven carousel in 1883 to his death in the 1920s. His company survived for another three decades, manufacturing more than 55 different rides, including miniature locomotives, bumper cars and roller coasters. In the early 1970s, the company was purchased by Chance, a rival maker of amusement rides. Organizers note that by acquiring the remaining assets, the museum is returning many of the artifacts to their original home.
Randy Fahs, an attorney for the Carousel Society, said experts are looking at options that would protect the museum from any product liability claims if the parts business faces any future lawsuits.
On hand for Friday's announcement was Allan Herschell, grandson of the company's founder, Rep. John LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, and several state and local officials. They praised the group for taking innovative steps to try to achieve fiscal stability.
Society Trustee Rae Proefrock said if the parts business is successful, it could serve as a creative model for other not-for-profit groups that are struggling to remain solvent.