Jack Stull made a risky move.
Facing financial shortfalls in each of the three years he had operated Alburtis Park, Stull needed to make a decision: Sell, shut down or charge admission for the first time in the facility's 88-year history.
With "free entertainment" as the hallmark at this family-friendly, country music venue, Stull knew the thought of charging might seem like blasphemy to some. But he also knew the balance sheets and knew that the park could not survive as things were going. He further knew the park had been financially troubled before he took over as operator.
Any way he added up the situation, he came up short.
So, for the first time in park history, Stull put up a sign charging $3 per person for ages 12 and older when the park opened this season in May.
Stull admits there was backlash from some who were used to attending events over the years for free. But he also had this to say after operating for about three months with an admission fee in place: There will be a 2013 season.
He doesn't think he would be saying that were it not for the admission charge.
"We're making it," he said. "Attendance isn't like it was, but the ones who didn't come [after the admission charge was implemented] didn't spend anyhow."
Stull is all for showing people a good time. The borough resident has been coming to the park for more than 40 years himself. But providing the "free" entertainment relied on enough visitors spending money on food and games to bring in proceeds to cover the entertainment cost as well.
That wasn't happening, and Stull found himself digging in his pocket to make up the annual shortfall of several thousand dollars.
Two Boyertown residents who have been coming for years continue to make the trip and think nothing of paying the admission charge.
"I don't mind paying that $3," said Geneva Schittler. "Gee, we're usually here Saturday and Sunday," she said, noting they haven't cut back now that there is a charge.
"What's 3 bucks?" shrugged her friend, Beatrice Lukens.
The two meet up to play bingo, sit under the large umbrellas at the picnic tables or enjoy the music under the canopy of tall trees throughout the park. Another part of the appeal is seeing many of the same people they have met at the park who keep coming back week after week and, for that matter, year after year.
Besides the toe-tapping, those inclined to dance can make their way to the portable dance floor in front of the wood stage for a polka or waltz. Janet Jacobs makes her way through the rows in the audience, selling strip tickets for raffles that further support the park.
Stull also is mixing a few new attractions, hoping to boost attendance. The 2nd-Annual Hot Dog Eating contest was held Aug. 19, and the first car cruise was held the day before.
While there are plenty of weekends remaining in the 2012 park season, Stull is pleased to already have a sign hanging that advertises May 4 as the opening date for the 2013 season.
Alburtis Park remains open weekends through Oct. 28. The park will be open noon to 8 p.m. Bands play from 3-8 p.m. both Saturdays and Sundays through September. Bands will play from 2-7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through the end of October.
Click here for the park schedule.