How Quassy Amusement Park Overcame Troubled Times

Eric Anderson (Left) and George Frantzis II (right)

Eric Anderson (Left) and George Frantzis II (right)

MIDDLEBURY, Conn:  When George Frantzis II and Eric Anderson step out of their business offices it can be anything but quiet. Generally, there’s a lot of screaming and yelling going on in all directions while pop songs play in the background.

One might consider that atmosphere anything but conducive to a productive work environment.

However, the sounds they hear are all too familiar to them and – at the same time – music to their ears. The noises are also unique in that the duo oversees the day-to-day operations at their family-owned business: Quassy Amusement & Waterpark.

The lakeside property has been in existence since 1908 and for the past 79 years it’s truly been a family affair, with the owner/operators now employing fourth generation kinfolk. “My grandfather purchased the park in 1937 with a couple of business partners,” recalls George, who grew up at Quassy working at every position imaginable under the direction of his late father. Today, he directs the sales team and also serves as the company’s chairman of the board.

For Eric, ending up in the amusement park business was more happenstance than anything.

As a youngster he would hang out in the arcade, retrieving wayward Skee-Balls when – he thought – no one was looking. Instead of giving the balls to the attendants, he would play them and then cash in the redemption tickets for prizes.

John Frantzis, George’s uncle and today the family patriarch, caught on to the 11-year-old’s antics and put him to work as restitution.

Long story short and 40-plus years later, Eric Anderson never left the park looking for other employment. John Frantzis took him under his wing, teaching him the arcade and amusement machine route businesses. John’s daughter, Emily, and Eric became high school sweethearts and eventually married.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The other business partners associated with the amusement park were eventually bought out so today it can be said that Quassy is, indeed, “all in the family.”

“It’s unusual to see any family business survive this long,” noted Eric, who now serves as park president. He also manages the ride maintenance, among other roles. Both he and George pile on upward of 80-90 hours a week at the park during the height of the season and they don’t think twice about it.

“We’re jack-of-all-trades in this business,” quipped George. “You have to be – it’s the nature of the beast.”

Quassy Amusement Park, as it was known prior to the advent of waterpark attractions in 2003, has had its share of ups and downs throughout the years.

Fact is, the park is lucky to still be in existence as most similar facilities closed long ago.

When the property opened in 1908 it was known as a “trolley park,” owned and operated by an electrified rail company. Prior to The Great Depression of 1929, there were more than 1,000 such properties in the United States. Today, less than a dozen remain.

And many other parks of yesteryear were family-operated. While the majority have closed, others have been bought out by large corporations. A story compiled just a few years ago recognized only around 60 family-owned facilities remaining.

“No doubt, we’re a survivor,” Eric said of the landmark property. “It seems as though we lose a small, family park each year.”

“If you visited Quassy in the 1990s, you might have thought we were about to meet the same fate,” he added. “There is no denying we were in trouble.”

During that era the once bustling beach on Lake Quassapaug rarely had more than a few dozen bathers during the height of the summer, while the ride area of the park was looking more like a rundown carnival.

George agreed, saying: “We were looking pretty rough around the edges. No one had to point that out.”

As the new century approached, third-generation family was now in control of the park’s future. The question was: will Quassy Amusement Park stumble along for – perhaps – a few more years and fade into the history books like so many other similar properties?

“It became very evident that some change was needed – some dramatic positive change,” Eric reflected. “It was around 2001 that we started seriously thinking about building waterpark attractions in hopes of turning things around.”

After the initial proposal was rejected by the bank, the park unveiled another plan; this time for an interactive family water play area.

“Looking back, we really were in over our heads with the first waterpark proposal,” George said of the proposition. “We took a step back, looked at things again and came up with a more viable solution.”

By the fall of 2002 the stage was set for Quassy to build Saturation Station, the first SCS Interactive WaterColors® unit in the world. The modular water play area would incorporate more than two dozen elements, including cascading fountains, two slides and a huge tipping bucket center stage.

The massive attraction, the largest single investment in the park’s history, opened on time the following spring and was an overnight success.

John Frantzis was the first to say “it saved the park,” a statement echoed many times following the debut of the water play area adjacent to Quassy beach.

With new-found success, the park embarked on a number of improvement plans leading up to its 2008 centennial. A huge Yo-Yo swing ride was added in 2004 and two new large waterslides opened in the waterpark in 2006.

“We had really set our sights on a new roller coaster for our 100th,” George said of the progress. “There were simply too many obstacles to overcome and in the meantime the economy tanked.”

Instead, the park ushered in two new rides, a swinging Pirate Ship and three-lane dry slide. In addition, Quassy threw a centennial bash featuring a big band dance and birthday cake.

Plans for building a marquee roller coaster continued to gain momentum behind the scenes,  despite the hard economic times of the “Great Recession,” while other improvements were made.

In August of 2010 the park finally broke ground on its highly-anticipated wooden roller coaster. The construction crew worked throughout a record-breaking New England winter and had the flagship attraction ready for the park’s opening day of the 2011 season.

George Frantzis II (left) and Eric Anderson at Wooden Warrior roller coaster in 2011 - season the award-winning ride opened

George Frantzis II (left) and Eric Anderson at Wooden Warrior roller coaster in 2011 – season the award-winning ride opened

Though considered a junior coaster among theme park and roller coaster enthusiasts, Quassy’s new Wooden Warrior would be setting the stage for the park in years to come.

“It’s been a game-changer, that’s for sure,” Eric said of the ride. “The coaster really put us on the international map, and I can say that because we get guests each season from all over the world.”

Wooden Warrior also drove attendance in its first year from what were previously secondary regional markets for the park.

“People are now willing to drive the extra distance just to ride the Warrior,” George added. “We don’t tout it as a huge coaster, but we do tell everyone it’s an exciting ride for its size.”

Wooden Warrior has received numerous accolades since opening and continues to be listed among the Top 50 Wood Roller Coasters in the world in a poll conducted by trade publication Amusement Today.

Each spring Quassy’s hosts Wooden Warrior Day in which registered attendees get exclusive ride time, a commemorate T-shirt and buffet lunch to mark the beginning of another season for the much-ballyhooed attraction.

“The success of the Warrior opened the doors for us to continue to make other improvements at the property,” Eric remarked. “We completed a major waterpark expansion in 2013 and added two new rides last year.”

In June of 2015 the park held a press conference to announce more than $6 million in improvements in the coming years. Eight new waterslides will be among the water attractions with five debuting this year.

In addition, a new spectacular thrill ride called Reverse Time makes its debut for 2016.

While Quassy’s guests frequently comment on the many improvements in recent years, the culmination of much of the park’s work came last September when Amusement Today Publisher Gary Slade presented George and Eric with his prestigious Turnstile Award during the Golden Ticket Awards* in New York.

“Without their vision, Quassy – in operation since 1908 – could have met the fate of many New England parks of yesteryear and ceased to exist. But George Frantzis II and Eric Anderson did not let that happen” Slade said during the presentation, with an international audience in attendance. “They reinvested and rebuilt to bring record revenues to Quassy, thus keeping the turnstile turning. For their vision and dedication, Quassy Amusement & Waterpark takes the Publisher’s Pick for the 2015 Turnstile Award.”

From all indications, Quassy Amusement & Waterpark has its new breath of life.

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