Around the Nation
3:04 pm
Sun August 3, 2014

Say Bye-Bye To A Beloved Kiddie Amusement Park

Originally published on Tue August 5, 2014 8:26 am

As you enter the gates of Hoffman's Playland, a kiddie amusement park just outside Albany, N.Y., a 62-year-old merry-go-round lures you with multi-colored horses and the tunes of yesteryear. An old-fashioned, pint-sized train engine, piloted by an engineer in full garb, lumbers by, toting four carloads of families. Kids ring bells and beep horns from little boats and cars.

On a recent Saturday, the park is packed with families. Hoffman's has been a summer-must for three generations of residents of New York's Capital Region.

But Hoffman's, one of a handful of kiddie parks left in the country, is getting ready to close in September after 62 years.

Tracy and Matt Miller, who both frequented the park as children, are now taking their 4-year-old daughter, Madeline, to Hoffman's for the first time. They want her to enjoy "all these things that adults take for granted, like being able to move around in a car that's yours temporarily, being able to go around in a circle, being able to go fast and jerk around and go up high in the sky," Matt says.

Even the park's owner, David Hoffman, has a child-like sparkle in his eye as he strolls through the park. He pauses at the merry-go-round and thinks about how many times he's ridden it.

"I rode that probably hundreds of times up until I was about the age of 7 or 8, and then my father said 'Hey, I think you can do some work,' so I was pulled off rides and started earning my keep," he says.

David's father, Bill, started the amusement park on his family's old turkey farm in 1952. David took over in 1974. "My father was told many times it would never succeed, it was too far away from Albany, it was in the middle of nowhere," Hoffman says.

Hoffman's Playland opened with two rides and some ponies. Sixty-two years later it has 19 rides and hosts 500 birthday parties a summer. But Hoffman is ready to retire, and the 8 acres of land the park sits on has become extremely valuable. The land surrounding it is now home to a brand new mixed-use development.

Statistics show that family-run amusement parks rarely survive a third generation. Family members and corporate park operators have no interest in keeping Hoffman's open, so the rides will go to auction — but not until the summer is over.

David pauses to look at the boat ride.

"Look how many children are on it. Look at how they're enjoying sticking their hands in the water and ringing the bells. It's amazing, isn't it?" he says.

There's a Facebook effort to keep the park going, but despite 20,000 followers and good ticket sales this season, the park's salvation looks unlikely.

Do you have photos of you or your family at a kiddie amusement park? Share them with us on Instagram using #NPRkidpark.

Copyright 2014 Northeast Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wamc.org/.

Transcript

ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

One of the country's classic "kiddie" theme parks is preparing to close its gates for good. Hoffmans Playland, just outside of Albany, New York, is shutting down because they can't find a buyer. Jessica Blaustein Marshall from member station WAMC takes a look inside the amusement park in it's final weeks of operation.

JESSICA BLAUSTEIN MARSHALL, BYLINE: As you enter the gates of Hoffman's Playland a 62-year-old merry-go-round lures you with multi-colored horses and the tunes of yesteryear. An old-fashioned, pint-sized train engine, piloted by an engineer in full garb, lumbers by toting four carloads of families. Kids ring bells and beep horns from little boats and cars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Mommy, I want to go on the horsey ride.

MARSHALL: It's a Saturday in the park is packed with children - little and big.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUSTIN FUNARI: Feel like I'm just washed over with nostalgia.

MARSHALL: Justin Funari lives in Los Angeles but he grew up in Albany. He traveled across country to come back one more time before the park closes it's for good in September.

FUNARI: I'm glad I'm an adult now but like I want to go on this train - getting curly fries and cotton candy is awesome. And it just makes me really happy.

MARSHALL: Hoffman's Playland has been a summer must for three generations of residents of New York's capital region.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take your tickets, thank you.

MARSHALL: Tracy and Matt Miller are taking their four-year-old daughter Madeline to the park for the first time.

TRACY MILLER: You want to go? Give the man your ticket and you can pick out where you want to sit.

MARSHALL: Madeline excitedly hops on a ride shaped like a giant caterpillar that goes up and down and around in a circle.

MATT MILLER: It was fun and bumpy.

T. MILLER: Fun and bumpy.

MARSHALL: The Miller's both frequented the park as children. They're glad Madeline has a chance to experience it.

MATT MILLER: It's all these things that adults for granted like, you know, being able to move around in a car that's yours temporarily. Being able to go around in a circle, being able to go fast and jerk around and go up high in the sky.

MARSHALL: Even the parks under David Hoffman has a childlike sparkle in his eye as he strolls through the park. He pauses at merry-go-round.

Now, how many times have you ridden this?

DAVID HOFFMAN: Oh, I rode that probably hundreds of times. You know, up until I was about the age of seven or eight and then my father said hey I think you can do some work.

MARSHALL: David's father started the amusement park on his family's old turkey farm 1952. David took over 1974.

HOFFMAN: My father was told many times it would never succeed, it was too far away from Albany it was in the middle of no where.

MARSHALL: Hoffman's Playland opened with two rides and some ponies. 62 years later, it has 19 rides and host 500 birthday parties a summer - but David is ready to retire and the eight acres of land the park sits on has become extremely valuable. The lands surrounding it is now home to a brand new mixed-use development. Hoffman's is only one of a handful of kiddie parks left in the country. Statistics show that families run amusement parks rarely survive a third generation. Family members and corporate Park operators have no interest so the rides will go to auction in -but not until the summer's over. David pauses to look at the boat ride.

HOFFMAN: Look how many children on it. Look at how they're enjoying sticking their hands in the water and ringing the bell. It's amazing isn't it?

MARSHALL: There is a Facebook effort to keep the park going but despite 20,000 followers and good ticket sales than the park salvation looks unlikely. From NPR News I'm Jessica Blaustein Marshall in Albany, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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