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Packing it in 

Alan Kearns

click to enlarge NOEL BLACK

With most young workers changing jobs on an average of every two years these days, not many people can say they've worked at the same place since they were 7 years old. Meet the exception: Now almost 53, Alan Kearns hasn't missed a single summer at one of Manitou's most enduring tourist attractions: The Manitou Penny Arcade (aka Arcade Amusements, Inc.).

Before the thoughts of nickel pinball, a game of Sea Wolf, or tickets spilling out of the Skee-Ball machines get you to feeling all nostalgic and sentimental for "better times," you should know that Kearns is all but ready to pack up the business his father Jack started 69 years ago.

"In this day and age, being in business isn't as fun as it used to be," waxed Kearns as he looked back over his career as man of amusements. "By the time you pay your insurance and taxes, there's nothing left."

Kearns cites home video games and the fact that Manitou Springs now closes its doors much earlier than it used to as major factors in the near-obsolescence of his tourist-based business.

But Kearns remembers the good times: running the "Ring-a-Bottle-Win-a-Bear" carnival amusement with his brother, scoring 450 (the highest possible) in Skee-Ball contests and 29-cent banana splits at Kenny's Caf, (which is now the derby).

While the day-to-day drudgery of the business has turned Kearns into something of a happy-go-lucky curmudgeon, he still takes pleasure in seeing young children enjoy the arcade.

"What makes it nice is the little kids' faces smiling. We have fourth- and fifth-generation people coming here," he said.

Kearns particularly enjoys the fact that the motorcar and elephant, the very first rides he enjoyed, are still operational and still get giggles out of the wee ones.

"The best thing is knowing that I rode those rides and my kids rode them and my grandkids [will] ... well, if I don't sell it."

--photo and story by Noel Black

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