Storied Past: A Family Owned Amusement Celebrates 65 years
What started out as a small picnic grove with a burger stand and playground in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey more than a half century ago has turned into a fairy tale come to life for tens of thousands of families who live locally or may just be passing through. The dream-turned-reality known as Storybook Land started in 1955, when John and Esther Fricano saw the idea as way to give families on road trips a place to stop and stretch their legs. Little did they know what joy it would one day bring to so many people when it became a fully operational theme park with a total of eighteen rides.
This year, Storybook Land is celebrating 65 years of family fun! While planned family friendly events this summer have been cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19, the parks owners are still striving to create an atmosphere that is welcoming, calm, and relaxed for the entire family to enjoy.
For Jessica Panetta, Director of Operations and daughter of current owner John Fricano Jr., providing a safe place for family fun is a year long commitment made worthwhile by the seeing the faces of the park's guests.
“You can see the joy on they kids and even the parents faces as they walk through the park," Panetta says. "We often hear that parents feel very safe bringing their children here, mainly because the park is geared towards a very specific age range - roughly one to eight years old. It's become a tradition for many families and we're seeing three, now four generations visiting sometimes. Parents also enjoy it because their kids can enjoy the park at their own pace, it's 'just their size,' not too big or small. You can easily spend all day at Storybook Land and not feel overwhelmed or overtired."
Locals Krista and Tony (who preferred not to have their last name used in this article) say Storybook Land is a tradition that has been in their families since they were kids. Today they're bringing their own kids to the park ... 8 year-old Tony and 5 year-old Luke.
“We like bringing the kids because they always have so much fun," says Krista. "The place is clean and shady. It’s usually not too crowded. The rides are age appropriate for my guys. The holiday events are great and we live close so getting season passes works great and (the passes) are totally worth it.”
Panetta believes those rich memory-building connections that can be passed down from generation to generation are a big part of what makes Storybook Land so special.
“I think parents, who have memories of coming to Storybook Land as a kid want to see the park through their children's eyes and that creates a very special moment, especially since not much of the park has changed over the years," Panetta says. "You can easily recreate pictures and memories.”
Unfortunately, a few less memories were made this summer with COVID-19 forcing the park to stay closed for nearly half of what is usually a very busy season. Once the park was finally able to open up the beginning of July, necessary changes were put in place to ensure a safe experience for everyone paying them a visit.
Storybook land has enacted a more intense and detailed cleaning schedule as well as other safety and sanitization procedures. The park is operating at 50% capacity with a reservation system in place. No indoor dining is allowed at the moment and the rides are also operating at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing and sanitizing. Plexiglass barriers are up at all point-of-sale counters and Season Pass holders are asked to email their pictures ahead of time to reduce the amount of time spent standing in line at Guest Services. The park is currently closed on Mondays for extra cleaning and maintenance as well as for the health and safety of its employees. Employees also have health screenings and temperature checks everyday when they check in.
While the course of action is different than it normally would be for a Storybook Land summer, Panetta says one thing hasn't changed in all these sixty five years - the park's commitment to making each visit a positive experience for everyone who passes through. When asked how it feels to see so many smiles on kids’ faces when they do pass through those castle doors ... “ Putting it simply, it feels like we’re doing our jobs.”