By Christian Mattos, Clovis Roundup Correspondent
Every Halloween, Simonian Farms transforms into a scary place — but not too scary.
Instead of trying to frighten its visitors with a haunted house or ghoulish characters, the landmark at 2629 South Clovis Ave. aims to bring people together for a little old-fashioned fun.
With four generations of Simonians at work on the farm, Halloween time has become a family event.
“Our Halloween deal has always been oriented towards the family, for younger-aged children,” owner Dennis Simonian, 72, said. “We don’t have scary houses or night hayrides.”
While the haunted caboose is a bit scary, with its spooky music and creepy characters inside, it is still a kid-friendly attraction. “It’s not a big thing, but it’s for children,” he said. “You don’t want them to get too scared or anything.”
Another activity for visitors is the corn maze, which recently became a permanent part of Simonian Farms.
“We made it about four years ago,” he said. “We used to make it random, but then we said, ‘You know, this takes so much time to do, let’s make one with a frame, we can use it every year and put it together,’ and that’s what we do. We got cornstalks all on top of it, straw in the middle, and then it’s framed with wood on the inside with black tarp.”
After a week of assembly, the corn maze was ready for the public. Simonian explained that the Halloween display outside of the farm took about two weeks to decorate: “A little here, making it, setting up and all that, just the way we want it. It takes a lot of work.”
Another crowd favorite is the wagon hayride, which takes passengers on a peaceful ride through the farm during daylight hours. “We charge $2 for them, and it goes around the ranch for 15 minutes, and it’s kind of neat,” Simonian said. “It shows the different varieties of things we have planted and it has signs out there that describes them.”
Natalie Escobar, 15, spent a day recently at Simonian Farms with her mother and her 10-year-old twin sisters, Lilly and Maria. “I liked the hayride,” Natalie said.
Natalie explained that she was a bit apprehensive about the haunted caboose. “My little sisters were nervous at first. I was afraid of what to expect in there.” After grabbing a snow cone, the girls said they had a fun day.
All of the Simonian family takes part in the Halloween activities. For the past five years, his daughter has been involved with bringing local schools to the farm. “My daughter Ashley, who runs the store, has school kids come out in the mornings — preschool to maybe third grade — and they pick a pumpkin, they get a hayride, and they get a safety coloring book about Halloween,” Simonian said.
“Then, she gives them a class with a big TV screen that describes how pumpkins are grown. This year, she’s so booked that she can’t get any more kids. She’s got over 3,000 of them coming this year. But she does a great job. They come by the hour.”
Simonian said he his wife, Bonnie, and the rest of his family have been selling pumpkins and celebrating Halloween with the community for 45 years.
“Halloween is a fun time because it’s for the family. My grandkids are out there now, fourth generation, doing it.”
He explained that his 11-year-old granddaughter was working at a game booth outside. He said that she gets to keep whatever profit she makes. Some of these booths included a bean bag toss and a glitter tattoo station.
“I started myself running the retail part of the business at 16 years old,” Simonian said. “The only thing we raised for the store at that time would be tomatoes and grapes.” He recalled picking fruit from the Fresno State campus. “Fresno State had no store, no nothing in those days!”
Simonian Farms stands out among other Halloween-themed operations due to its familial ties and traditions. “It’s geared to selling a pumpkin rather than trying to make money on haunted houses and having a few pumpkins there,” Simonian said.
“We used to sell a lot more pumpkins because the chain stores weren’t really into that, but now, every chain store in the world sells pumpkins. There was no Costco here when I started, there was no Targets.”
“But still, they like to come here because of the atmosphere, instead of picking them out of a bin. They like to pick it, choose, sit around, go on a hayride, spend some time. Make it a family thing.”
“That’s one of the reasons why we built the barn. It’s oriented all towards the family.” Simonian explained that about two and a half years ago, he invested in a giant barn, the inside of which features an old-fashioned town, complete with a saloon, barber shop, post office, and gas station modeled like a western movie.
“Our whole business is geared to the people around us and the tourists that come in, but we don’t give tourist prices,” he said, noting a stroll through the barn is free.