Trolley Parks to FEC’s… and back?


In early 1900’s, Trolley Parks were all the rage in the United States.  If you don’t know what a Trolley Park is, it’s a recreation park that was developed at the end of a trolley spur in a city or town to encourage ridership on the weekends – in essence giving people a reason to ride the cars (and spend money) on Saturday and Sunday.  Those small parks were often near lakes, and eventually grew up to become full-fledged amusement parks.  I am proud to say I started my career at one such park in New Hampshire, Canobie Lake Park.

Unfortunately due to that pesky invention, the automobile, people did not need to rely on trolleys as much for transportation, and the decline of the Trolley Parks began.   Other economic factors were at play as well, and today only a handful survive.

Something occurred to me the other day, though, that got me thinking that there is a new generation of trolley parks popping up all over the country.

They are called FEC’s.  Family Entertainment Centers. Some as quaint as an arcade and ice cream parlor, others as grand as mini-golf, go-karts, rides, games, restaurants, water slides… some are getting so big they are redefining the category of FEC.  They are really small amusement parks.

Which tells me this: the market for a close-to-home, moderately priced attraction did not die with the Trolley Parks – it just went away for awhile.  But now it seems to be back with a vengeance.  With more and more “stay-cations” happening these days, a trip to the local FEC could be the perfect answer for an afternoon of merriment.

Of course the challenge for FEC operators is to ensure that their businesses do not fall out of favor like their predecessors.  One significant advantage some of them have is that at least a portion of their attraction can be operated year round, even in colder climates.

So will FEC’s take the place of Trolley Parks?  Have they already?  What do you think?

Thanks for reading!

5 thoughts on “Trolley Parks to FEC’s… and back?

  1. Great topic! I never thought of an FEC being the new Trolley Park. I wouldn’t say the Trolley Park is being replaced by FECs but reinvented. A good example is a defunct trolley park being preserved/reestablished as an FEC. Not only is the park being preserved/reestablished, but its starting out much like it did before. It seems that everyone is taking a proven concept and reinventing it. A trolley park and an FEC are one in the same.

  2. Matt, I think you bring up a great point here. i never thougt about the correlation between trolley parks and FEC’s until now. In these economic times many families can not afford the cost of a trip to a full scale amusement park. Unfortunately many of the small local parks have dissapeared, not able to compete with the larger, regional parks and the even larger destination resorts. This has left a void in the industry that is starting to be filled with the modern FEC. I love what the FEC has become. These innovative operators have turned what used to be a dark corner arcade into bright, inviting and exciting family destinations! Just like the trolley parks provided safe family fun at the turn of the 20th century, FEC’s are now providing the same at the start of the 21st!

  3. Let us not forget the middle child in this family the Roadside attraction. It also served as a easy inexpensive way for families to make memories.

    I really did enjoy reading this comparison and there are a lot of ways in which it’s operations are similar. One trend I noticed with newer FEC’s is that many of them are built into shopping center were Buss transportation is available.

    • Michael – thanks for the comment and good point about the transportation! Gotta get people TO your facility first!

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