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May 15, 2023

Neshaminy Mall Carnival adopts chaperone policy for teens to eliminate 'unacceptable behavior'

Bensalem police will have an increased presence for the remainder of the event after youth reportedly engaged in fights, hopped over barricades and slapped strangers last weekend

Recreation Carnival
Neshaminy Mall Carnival Provided Image/Dreamland Amusements

The Neshaminy Mall Carnival will be in Bensalem Township through Sunday. In response to disturbances during opening weekend, all teens must now be accompanied by an adult age 21 or older, police say.

The return of the annual Neshaminy Mall Carnival in Bensalem last weekend was marred by unruly behavior from teenagers, police said. Now, anyone under 18 will need to be accompanied by an adult, and the carnival will close one hour earlier each night.

Dreamland Amusements, the carnival's operator, and Bensalem police said "unacceptable activity on and around the carnival grounds" Friday night led to the new security rules. They will be in effect for the duration of the carnival, which runs through Sunday. 

A single entrance has been established for guests to enter the carnival grounds, and adults must provide valid identification with a picture and date of birth. Teens must be accompanied by an adult age 21 or older. Failure to comply with the new rules could result in guests being removed by police or private security guards. 

Bensalem police said they plan to increase their presence for the remainder of the carnival, which now will close at 10 p.m.  

"This is not going to be a drop-off place for teenagers or people younger than that to just come in on their own," Joe DiStefano, owner of Dreamland Amusements, said during a phone call Monday. 

The new policy was implemented Saturday and has been strictly enforced, DiStefano said. He explained that teenagers had run around and caused disturbances Friday night. 

When Bensalem police shared the carnival's updated policy on Facebook, some commenters complained of fights, people jumping over barricades to sneak in and teenagers slapping people at random. Others said people who had been kicked out of the carnival argued with police and caused a scene. 

The Neshaminy Mall Carnival has been operated by Dreamland Amusements for at least the last 15 years, DiStefano said. In the past, there was no perimeter fence and people could enter at their leisure at the front of the carnival grounds. But in recent years, the perimeter fence was added for crowd control. Private security guards were brought in to monitor the area along with Bensalem police. 

"We're not going allow this to be negatively affected for all the good people that have patronized us for so many years," DiStefano said. "And we've taken every step we can. If we have to take more steps, we will."

DiStefano praised the work of Bensalem police over the years. He said the problems Friday stemmed from a deeper issue with society. 

"Society not recognizing authority, I would say is the biggest problem," DiStefano said. 

Bensalem police did not immediately return a call seeking more information about the disturbances. No arrests were announced. 

The security changes at the Neshaminy Mall Carnival are part of a trend of establishments pushing back against disturbances caused by young people. 

Allentown's Dorney Park, which just started its 2023 season, now requires a chaperone for guests 15 and under due to "increasing incidents of unruly and inappropriate behavior" across the amusement park industry.

In Philadelphia, after more than 300 teens caused disturbances in Center City, the Fashion District mall on East Market Street created a policy prohibiting unsupervised teens from entering after 2 p.m.

And at the Jersey Shore, Ocean City passed an ordinance that allows police to detain juveniles who cause problems until their parents pick them up at the police station. Sea Isle City has enacted a curfew and will restrict the use of backpacks this summer. Both shore towns say there have been problems with large groups of teens during the last couple years.

Dreamland Amusement's traveling carnival visits a number of sites on the East Coast each year, including DiStefano's native Long Island next month. 

Compared to larger venues like Dorney Park, DiStefano finds the problems at the Neshaminy Mall Carnival especially frustrating because it's intended for families to have a fun, local outing. 

"We don't have busloads of people that we bring," DiStefano said. "This is somewhat local — five miles, 20 miles, 30 miles."

At the CitiField Spring Carnival in Flushing, New York, Dreamland Amusement implemented a similar chaperone policy due to "large crowds and unaccompanied minors" over the weekend. 

DiStefano said he is most bothered by the blemishes teen disturbances leave on the reputations of venues and operators. 

"It's not the fault of the establishment. It's not the fault of the mall. It's not the fault of a roller rink or a baseball stadium. It's the fault of society," DiStefano said. "The establishment didn't cause the problem. It was a just a place for the problem to occur. We don't want that any more than the good families that come here want that."

The Neshaminy Mall has struggled in recent years to compete with the nearby Oxford Valley Mall and Philadelphia Mills, leading some to wonder whether it will soon join the ranks of America's so-called "dead malls." In general, malls have suffered from the growth of online shopping and the difficulties tenants face covering rent, though some contend that their demise has been overstated.  

In January, the Bucks County Courier Times reported the assessed property value of the Neshaminy Mall had dropped by 42% since 2020, falling to $3.6 million. More than a dozen of the mall's retail spaces are empty and two of its former department stores, Sears and Macy's, have shuttered. The mall is anchored by a 24-screen AMC movie theater, Boscov's and Barnes & Noble. It opened in 1968 and was most recently renovated in 2015. 

Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo said mall owner Brookfield Properties had approached the township about solutions. Plans for a Round 1 Bowling & Amusement at the former Sears fell through and a Chick-fil-A pulled out of the food court. (In Royersford, Montgomery County, another Chik-fil-A banned children younger than 16 unless accompanied by an adult, citing behavior problems as the motivation for its policy). 

Bensalem considered a Wawa near the mall, but determined that alone wouldn't be a significant change. Wawa has had its own struggles with unruly behavior and crime at its stores in Philadelphia, where it has closed several locations and shortened the hours of others over the last few years. 

DiStefano said he has no intention of abandoning the carnival in Bensalem. 

"This is going to be an ongoing family event," DiStefano said. "We're going to make sure of it."