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.
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