Conventional wisdom holds that the New Orleans-area economy has dodged the worst of the financial meltdown, from rampant foreclosures to skyrocketing unemployment, thanks to the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
As it turns out, what may be the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression couldn’t rock the market for Carnival throws, either.
Despite fears among Mardi Gras bead vendors and krewe captains this year that riders skittish of spending on frivolities would skimp on costly throws, trinkets of all kinds — from krewe-themed Coke bottles to hologram medallions to giant plush flowers — have flown off the shelves.
“We didn’t get any stimulus package except from our customers, ” said Nancy Lahaye, a cashier at Accent Annex in Metairie. “I assumed that it just would be slower, but I just have not seen that. The people are coming in. They’re happy, and they’re talking about the parades.”
Though some krewes have struggled to reach membership goals and a few even canceled their parades, it appears that those who didn’t quit threw financial caution to the wind — or else had ordered their spoils before the economic climate became so dire. In either case, revelers who line the routes should not expect to be short-changed.
More than the throws themselves, it may be that riders see their purchases as an investment in the Carnival spirit, Muses Captain Staci Rosenberg said.
“It’s certainly not a necessity, but people feel that way, ” she said of the hundreds, often thousands of dollars in beads and other goodies that her members stocked up on this year. “It’s an escape, ” Rosenberg said. “It’s a necessity, maybe, for their mental health.”
Dan Kelly, who runs Beads by the Dozen, said sales at retail stores started slowly this year, with cheaper, generic bead strands going first. After the first of the year, though, business began to surge.
“It has really picked up in the last few days, ” Kelly said. “Now, we feel like we will do at least what we did last year, if not better.”
Among the popular new items: oversized “blow” beads that resemble Christmas ornaments but are sturdier, plus decorations for wagons, parade ladders and houses, such as sparkly fringe and twinkle lights in purple, green and gold, Lahaye said.
Lahaye said she has received bead orders from customers as far away as Nebraska and California looking to import Mardi Gras fun.
With Valentine’s Day falling during the first weekend of parades, Kelly said he has sold a lot of red heart beads and romance-themed items. Also hot this year is the Krewe of Endymion’s new “lenticular” medallion, which features a hologram and a plastic figurine of the club’s namesake that glows in every color of the rainbow, he said.