There are about 350 amusement parks left in the U.S., according to the National Amusement Park Historical Assn., down sharply from 480 in 1999. Independent parks experienced a wave of closings in 2004, when skyrocketing real estate prices drove many owners to sell to large chains.
Paul and Paula Borchardt, co-owners of Amarillo (Tex.)-based World of Wonderland, took over the park from her parents in 1988. They carved a niche by focusing on family-oriented attractions in a sparsely populated area. The couple buys used equipment to keep costs low and maintains just 15 full-time employees. "In today's market, there is no cash available. There would be no way that anybody could duplicate our park with the type of equipment needed, [and] the 'corporates' are not going to buy us out because our market is too small," says Paul Borchardt. "That's why we're successful."