EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Jean Sidway remembers visiting Storybook Land as a child during the 1960s and taking her own children there as a mother during the 1980s.
Sidway, director of the English Creek Academy, returned to Storybook Land this summer. This time, she was with one of her grandchildren, who attended her child-care center.
“The children love it. They are fascinated with Storybook Land. It’s a beautiful park,” Sidway said. “There is something for everyone. ... They have done it the right way.”
The proof Storybook Land has been doing it right is its track record. While other vintage amusement parks throughout the country have faded away, Storybook Land has been open for 61 years in the same spot on the Black Horse Pike.
“When parks close, we check them out and see what they have,” said Jessica Fricano, operations manager. “A lot of these parks opened at the same time in the 1950s, so a lot of the decorations, characters and figures all look alike, and they all have that same kind of style.”
Storybook Land, which opened in 1955 as a roadside picnic area and snack stand on the way to Atlantic City, grew into a 25-acre amusement park. At the time, it was one of many theme parks created to entertain the children of the post-World War II baby-boom generation.
It has survived dips in the economy, bad weather and competition from bigger parks near and far. That competition includes Walt Disney World, which opened in Orlando, Florida, in 1971 and Great Adventure, which opened in Jackson in 1974.
The park also had to deal with being in a state whose building and safety codes for amusement parks are some of the most stringent in the nation.
Manufacturers and operators consider the amusement park safety codes in New Jersey and California to be the strictest, said Brian Hartley, vice president of Playland’s Castaway Cove in Ocean City.
Storybook Land has grown by adding rides and attractions over the decades that follow the theme of nursery rhymes, children’s classics and bedtime stories. They include the Alice in Wonderland tunnel and maze, Moby Dick the whale and a giant shoe representing the Old Woman in the Shoe.
That timeless theme has become a tradition for Storybook Land’s customers. The park is ideal for children ages 1 through 9 and anyone who is a child at heart, Fricano said.
“A lot of people were here as children when we first opened. They brought their kids. Their kids are bringing their kids, and now, their kids are starting to bring their kids, so we are on a fourth generation of kids coming,” Fricano said. “It’s kind of a generational thing. That tends to bring people back.”
Storybook Land is a nostalgic park, but it has the modern amenities of an amusement park, including rides such as a roller coaster, a water play area in the summer and restaurants.
The park even has live animals for visitors to feed.
“We have had animals since we started,” Fricano said. “The people like them. They are different. It’s something different to see here, and everybody remembers feeding the goat. You talk to somebody from before, and they will say they were a kid from the 1980s, and they fed the goat. It’s one of those distinct things that people remember about being here.”
On a recent Thursday, Vi Brown, 67, of Millstone, Monmouth County, drove down to Storybook Land with her daughter, Kourtney Crivello, 37, also of Millstone, and her granddaughter, Bella Crivello, 4, and Bella’s friend, Tatiana Jukofsky, 4, of Manalapan, Monmouth County.
Brown, a former teacher who read the classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes to her two children, was spending the day with her grandchild. But she remembered bringing her children to Storybook Land in the 1970s.
“They loved it. I think it’s a combination of things,” Brown said. “They knew all the fairy tales. They could see it in real life, and it was fascinating to them.”
Bella also loves Storybook Land.
“We just mention Storybook Land, and she’s all excited. I think it’s still as magical as it was before,” Brown said.
Three generations of the Fricano family have owned and operated Storybook Land since it began. Last year was a significant one for the family. The park celebrated its 60th birthday, but 2015 also saw the death of the last original owner. Esther Fricano, who portrayed Mother Goose, died in May of that year. Her husband, John J. Fricano, the other original owner, died in 2009.
The current owners are their children, JoAnne and John Jr. The grandchildren, Jessica and John III, are the managers.
Over the years, as the popularity of plane travel grew, Storybook Land saw competition from destination parks such as Walt Disney World, but continued to succeed.
“With parks like Storybook Land and other parks, it’s simple: You buy your tickets (either online or at the ticket window), and you go in and enjoy your day,” Fricano said. “The Walt Disney World Resort is a world-class attraction, and they do a wonderful job of making it easy to plan a trip. However, some parents and families opt for a more low-key experience.”
Severe weather events have contributed to the closing of some other theme parks. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Storybook Land experienced only minor damage, but it wasn’t as lucky with the derecho that occurred right before the July 4th weekend that year.
“We experienced extensive damage and power loss,” Fricano said. “We ran on standby generators, and it took a week and a full crew to clear the park of downed trees, and two rides were damaged. Other than that, we have not experienced any other significant storm damage.”
To survive, Storybook Land has had to balance absorbing the rising costs of operating while keeping ticket prices affordable for families.
If the tickets are ordered online, a family of four can visit Storybook Land for less than $100. The park sells season passes for $101.95 per person. They last from March 19 through Dec. 30 and pay for themselves in four visits.
“We do our absolute best to keep it affordable for not only tourists, but for locals as well. We allow people to bring in picnic food and snacks from home, so they do not have to worry about purchasing food here,” Fricano said.