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The History of NICA: An Idea Still Growing Strong!

Our Mission

NICA is a membership-driven organization dedicated to strengthening relationships with the Fair, Festival and Special Events Industries through effective communication, education, benefits, leadership, and solutions.

The Beginning

The National Independent Concessionaires Association was only a vague idea when Larry Orme and Gene O’Brien got together at the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach, Florida, in January, 1993. The two men, with 79 years of concession experience between them, knew the many problems facing the industry. Yet, Gene and Larry, using all their resourcefulness and knowledge, had been unable to resolve the financial and regulatory problems facing their businesses. They also knew the independent, self-reliant nature of concessionaires as a group. The two men wondered if the time might be right to attempt to organize these bright, yet autonomous, businessmen.

Were there enough problems and common concerns to bring them together?

Larry Orme offered to find out by placing an ad in the Amusement Business magazine, announcing a meeting to be held in Tampa, Florida on February 10, 1993, with the express purpose of forming a concessionaires association.

Gene O’Brien arranged for the meeting place at the Florida State Fairgrounds and for the printed materials for the meeting. In the two-week period that Larry and Gene were at the South Florida Fair, the beginnings of a board of directors was formed. Because most of the real lasting hopes for the new organization were based on the future, Larry Orme selected a young and innovative concessionaire in the person of Richard Wright. Gene O’Brien and Larry jointly sought out Larry Sivori to add his youth and enthusiasm to the board.

When the Florida State Fair began in February, Gene O’Brien added Kevin McGrath and his keen mind to the now five-member board. During the next seven days of endless meetings, discussions and arguments, the board began to form a collective mind regarding many issues. During one of these sessions, the five directors agreed to ask Art Pokorny to serve, due to his knowledge of fair management. The board also agreed to add one more director making seven in order to prevent possible voting ties. They felt the person selected should be from an area (of the country) not already represented on the board. They would make that decision later.

NICA’s initial membership drive was so successful (as shown by the fast growing numbers), due to the hard work and dedication of its membership committee, headed by Shelly Patinella, Lou Pacifico, and Tony Pacifico. This was the first committee formed. Their contribution was as significant as was that of the board.

The big day came and what a turnout we had for our first meeting! More than 200 people attended from all over the country. One hundred and twenty-five of these signed as members, a clear indication of the need for this organization. Those attending the meeting had the opportunity to express their concerns by completing survey forms. The results revealed a broad spectrum of issues. However, the most frequently voiced concerns were: insurance, deposits, rents, percentages, bookings, appropriately priced services, long term contracts, assignable contracts, D.O.T. regulations, and some method to ensure balanced opportunity for concessions.

Now we were ready to represent independent concessionaires. Our number had grown to 160 by the time NICA board members participated in the Florida Federation of Fairs Annual Meeting in May, 1993.
This was the first time anyone representing an independent concessionaire had spoken on his behalf!

NICA began immediately to make plans to take an active part in the IAFE Convention in Las Vegas in November.

In June, Bill McKinney of Hughes Springs, Texas became our seventh director. Bill brought to the board many years of experience and representation for our midwestern members.

By August of 1993 plans were well under way for our first NICA Convention to be held in Tampa, Florida.

NICA had 360 members by November when a nervous, anxious NICA board of directors met in Las Vegas for its first IAFE Convention. This group of seven had been meeting by teleconference monthly since April but several had not met in person.

NICA’s success from the beginning has been, in part, due to a happy circumstance not foreseen at the time of formation. The NICA board had a remarkable resource in the talented wives of its members. What a staff they became writing, typing, and organizing all the many policies, minutes, and agendas to name just a few of the jobs they carried out...

When NICA left Las Vegas in 1993 they were finally a true organization ready to speak for its membership.

The History of NICA was written by Olivia Orme in February 1998. Today NICA is an organization with over 1000 members across the United States and Canada. NICA services independent businesses that work in the mobile event industry. Our general membership includes food concessionaires, retail/commercial sales, game operators and independent entertainers and attractions. Our associate membership includes fairs, festivals and suppliers.

Regional Councils

NICA is first a membership-driven organization. Without members it ceases to exist; therefore, its first priority is to grow membership and provide value to the members it serves. Forming NICA Regional Councils supports NICA’s Long Term Strategic Goal of Growing Membership. In order to work in concert with the Board, one person from each Council serves on the BOD as a Voting Ex-Officio Member. Historically, Regional Councils activate members around local concerns, add new members, provide more professional voices, develop leadership, and offer a focused geographic presence while building a stronger “National” NICA.

West Council

In 2006, Tony Trafton, CCE and Chuck Dugan asked Rey O’Day if she would oversee an organization dedicated to educating Concessionaires and creating benefit programs for its members. Out of those conversations a group was formed called Associated Business Owners Guild (ABOG) which was modeled after the LA County Fair Communication Committee. O’Day had twice served on the NICA Advisory Committee and thought ABOG and NICA would be a perfect merger. The NICA Board adopted a resolution that made that happen. The kick-off for the NICA West Council was at the Western Fairs Association (WFA) convention which was held in January 2007 in Reno, NV.

The West Council immediately began developing a benefit relationship with Sysco-Los Angeles. Today the NICA Sysco Marketplace is a $14M strong partnership in which Entegra and Sysco provide savings and rebateable items for NICA Members. In 2021, they brought Goodyear fleet tire pricing into NICA’s benefit program. They present workshops, hold benefit socials, host two long running golf tournaments, and several poker/bingo fundraisers.

In 2013, NICA Members elected the first Director from the West Council to the Board. Since then, four Presidents from the West Council have served, including current President Daryl Whicheloe, CCE. Rey O’Day began as the West Council Coordinator in 2007, was inducted into the NICA Hall of Fame in 2016, and today serves as NICA’s Executive Director. In 2023, Don Delahoyde, CCE and Julie Dunn became the new West Council Coordinators and have already been at the helm for both conventions and gatherings in the time since.

East Council

In February 2020, the Northeast Council and the Southeast Council joined forces to become the East Council representing our members from the tip of Maine to the tip of Florida. Jessica Gottsche, who has been the Coordinator for both, continues as the East Council Coordinator and NICA’s Social Media Coordinator.

In June 2016, the Northeast Council was launched and held their first regional Bingo Rally at The Big E in West Springfield, MA in the fall of 2016. In 2019, they supported the Erie County Fair’s 4H Beef Auction by raising $17,000 to purchase the Grand Champion.
In May 2018, the Southeast Council met for the first time to begin some Strategic Planning and set goals for their first year. In October 2019, they held their well-attended inaugural event, the Rally in Raleigh at the North Carolina State Fair, an event that continues each Fall. Additionally, they have taken on responsibility for some successful Florida fundraisers such as the South Florida Bowling Tournament and St. Lucie’s Casino Night.

Most recently they honored the retirement of Art Pokorny, one of NICA’s founding members, by raising almost $8,000 for NICA’s Foundation Scholarship Program during a Breakfast Rally at the North Carolina State Fair. Together they also carry on the NICA fundraising traditions of survival kits and RV spots, with their latest fundraiser prizes worth $2500! As of this year, three current Directors of the Board originally started as members of the East Council.

Midwest Council

NICA’s Midwest Council held its inaugural meeting October 26, 2021, led by Dennis Larson, CFE and recently retired from the Minnesota State Fair. The newly formed Regional Council is generally representative of the fourteen states bordering the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana. The Council is still building its ranks and the members are currently making plans for their next Council Events in 2024.

NICA Foundation: Honoring the Past, Present & Future

The NICA Foundation was launched as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation in February 2020 at NICA’s Annual Gala, with the final selection of their Board by May. Since then, the Foundation Board of Trustees has built a chart of accounts, created named sponsorship opportunities, generated financial procedures, accepted the Foundation-related Strategic Goals from NICA, and organized mission-driven projects. The NICA Foundation also held its first in-person annual meeting and conducted several successful fundraisers in the last year.

In 2023, the Foundation will award $34,000 in scholarships and continue a scholarship program for first time attendees of NICA educational events. The NICA Foundation’s mission is, “To foster leadership development in the Fair and Event Industries by providing support through educational scholarships and by enhancing training and professional services.” To learn more or to make a donation, visit

Tomorrow Starts Today!

For NICA, 2024 marked 31 years as an organization. Our theme for 2024 is “Tomorrow Starts Today!” NICA continues to work with many of our Membership and Sister Organizations to collaboratively discuss and share answers regarding the many matters facing the Industry such as multi-year contracts, rising costs, labor sourcing, exclusive sponsorships, transfer of ownership, and more.

Now, as we enter our 31st year of forward thinking and embracing the NICA mission of strengthening relationships with the Fair, Festival and Special Event Industries through effective communication, benefits, education, leadership, and solutions, it continues to be important that we keep pace with an ever-changing world.

Today the organization is over 1,200 strong and growing, continuing to offer a wide variety of benefits and services. Make sure to join us at our many events throughout the year! As history has proven...

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