This 28-Year-Old Amusement Park Manager Makes Her Gen Z Employees Give Up Their Phones Before They Start Working
Isadora Richardson's great-great-grandparents founded Trimper Rides in 1893, and she aims to return the park to its former glory.
Trimper Rides tried its best to meet its usual opening date in 2020, but it was out of luck. The classic amusement park, which has operated in Ocean City, Md., since 1893, had implemented new cleanliness protocols and was ready to welcome guests back during COVID-19 — but Governor Larry Hogan said that outdoor attractions weren’t yet safe to operate.
Then that changed, thanks to one of the youngest operators of this very old company.
Isadora Richardson, 28, is the great-great-granddaughter of the park’s founders, and she is now its operations manager. She took to Facebook just before Easter last year, posting about Trimper Rides’ safety practices and how disappointed her staff was to not open on time. She ended the post with the hashtag #opentrimpers — and in about 90 minutes, that hashtag had been reposted 1,000 times. Shortly after, Governor Hogan announced that outdoor attractions could open after all. Trimper wasn’t prepared for the announcement and quickly ramped up operations from a six-person staff to a 75-person staff overnight. “There were so many people rooting for us to open,” says Richardson.
This, Richardson says, is one of the great powers of bringing fresh perspective to a classic brand. And she’s eager to bring more.
In many ways, Trimper Rides is rightly anchored to the past. It’s part of the charm. For example, one of its rides is a hand-carved, hand-painted Herschel-Spellman carousel, acquired in 1902, that has 52 different creatures. It’s undergone some changes over the decades, but not many. In the 1930s, the steam engine was swapped for an electric motor. Last year, the bulbs were replaced with LEDs to make the colors pop. But the same woman, Maria Schlick, has been hand-painting the ride for 35 years.
Richardson admits the park doesn’t have the kind of cache it did generations ago, however — and she intends to change that. Out of all the family members who work at Trimper, Richardson maintains that she’s the most interested in taking over one day. She envisions herself playing a role similar to that of her grandfather, who stepped back from running the park in 1985 after a cancer diagnosis. Under his tenure, the park served as a community anchor. “My end goal is to have us back to where the park was when he was running it,” says Richardson. “I want to take on his legacy.”
Richardson began her career in hospitality, and she was managing a restaurant when COVID-19 hit. That’s when she decided to come work for her family’s business. She initially helped out with human resources and made schedules for the rides. Soon Richardson also found a way to bring her expertise from the restaurant industry to the amusement park while, at the same time, pinpointing something the park was missing: better guest relations. She realized almost every other amusement park had some way for guests to give compliments or file complaints, so she opened a guest relations office last year. “Guest relations is something I’m very good at,” she says.
Being the park manager isn’t always simple, though. As part of her job, Richardson manages a group of Gen Zers who work as ride operators. She noticed they were often staring at their phones, which posed a safety hazard. To fix the problem, she implemented a new training program and required that employees’ phones be relinquished when they arrive for the workday. A phone-free environment is now in her employee contracts.
That way, everyone at the park — from the customers to the employees — can make sure the focus stays on what’s kept this company in business for 128 years: good, safe fun.
Britta Lokting is a journalist based in New York. Her features have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and elsewhere.