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Scott Jagow: For certain businesses, this is the best week of the year. Costume shops, pumpkin patches, candy stores, perhaps. And then there’s the haunted house industry. Haunted houses aren’t cheap to operate, but they can pay off big time.
Randy Bates has a farm in rural Pennsylvania. But his haunted house . . . the Bates Motel . . . brings in more money than his crops. Is that true, Randy?
Randy Bates: Well, we have a very small farm, it’s only about 80 acres. If you want to make a living at real crop farming — you know, raising corn and wheat, things like that — you only make about a couple hundred dollars an acre. So you need to come up with, you know, a unique and alternate way of farming, and that’s what we’ve done.
Jagow: At a haunted house.
Bates: A haunted hayride, a haunted barn and a haunted corn maze. My township has actually passed an ordinance stating that these types of activities are, in fact, agriculture, and can be by right used on farms.
Jagow: Really. How much do you have to pour into this venture to make money?
Bates: We pour in hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to try and upgrade it, buy new props, new equipment. We’ve got about 180 employees — about half of them are actors, the other half are support staff.
Jagow: So what kind of scary things do you have?
Bates: We have a wide range of different types of scares. Extremely large, mechanical monsters. I’ve got one that’s a, he’s almost like a gargoyle, fully animatronic. He stands up to about 18 feet tall and has a 1,000-watt roar. But we also use a lot of high-startle features. I’ve got one scene in my haunted house, they walk into, looks like a dining room set, and you see a young actress sitting at a table, and the China closet behind you splits open in the middle and the actor comes out. So, very high startle.
Jagow: Yeah, I can imagine that would be scary. But do you find that people get used to certain scary things and that you have to change to keep up with that?
Bates: Oh, absolutely. It’s critical that you change your attraction every year, and that’s why we put so much money back into it. I like to play on my past customers, where they walk, coming through a trail, and they might say, “Hey, watch, this guy’s gonna jump out from over on the right here,” maybe the next year you take that and change that to having that person jump out on the left, or even come down from overhead.
Jagow: All right, Randy Bates, owner of the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride. Thanks for joining us.
Bates: You’re welcome.
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