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THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA HAS MANY
great traditions including several great sports traditions such as the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Indianapolis 500. But few American sports traditions can match the mystique of the classic American horse race known as the Kentucky Derby.

Run annually on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., it is the first and probably the most well known of three races that make up the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing (the other two are the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes). And along with the most well-known race come some of the most well-known parties.

SHINDIGS OF ALL SIZES
Wayne Esterle, AIFD, KMF. owner of In Bloom Again, specializes in party work and does some of the biggest and most prestigious parties in the area during this exciting time of year. "We do an average of about 25 Derby-related parties each year:' he says. These parties range in size from 100 people to nearly 1,200 people and are for some of the most influential companies in the area.
"Most of the parties are corporate clients." says Mr. Esterle. "Last year's clients included Brown Forman Corporation. General Electric. Bell South. Labrot & Graham Distillery, Aegon Corporation, Coca-Cola, PNC Bank, Caesars Casino, the Churchill Downs Press Party, The Mint Jubilee, American Airlines, and Dow Corning.

"One of the largest of those is the Churchill Downs Press Party," he continues. "It's a cocktail party for the press that comes here from around the world to cover the race. It's by invitation only, of course, but it's about 1,200 people. It's a themed party, with a different con¬cept every year." Last year, the party had an Asian theme.

ONE LONG WEEKEND
What makes the work that Mr. Esterle's shop does around the time of the Derby so taxing is that all of the parties occur on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that lead up to the race (Saturday at 5:30 p.m.). So not only does the shop design and set up flowers for about 25 parties. it has to transport goods for and set up these 25 parties within three days. "We don't really sleep that weekend says Mr. Esterle.

Since his staff regularly consists of only five designers, he brings in about four more designers to help during Derbv week. "Some of the designers are from other shops in the city [since only two or three shops in the area do much Derby Work], while several are from out of town. I have a couple of designer friends who come from Cincinnati to help," he says.

The shop also provides the flowers for about nine hotels in and around the area. decorating lobbies and meeting rooms for Derby week. One of these hotels is The Seelbach Hilton. Louisville. which is the area's four-star. four-diamond hotel. With all the different projects during this busy time. the shop's combined crew put together more than 1.000 arrangements for Derby week in 2003. ranging from table centerpieces to larger hotel lobby designs,

YEAR-ROUND SUPPORT
Although Mr, Esterle says he could save a bit of money by ordering most of his Derby party flowers direct. he gets most of them from Dreisbach Wholesale Florists, Inc. in Louisville. Ky, "I just don't think it would be right to order from someone else when they [Dreisbach's] take such good care of me year-round. They're here 365 days a year. and they have impeccable service." says Mr, Esterle.

Derby-related work accounts for about 15 percent of In Bloom Again's yearly sales, according to Mr. Esterle, "The rest of the year, we do a lot of weddings and other corporate events along with some funerals and other types of regular retail work," he adds, Though the shop doesn't have walk-in customers, it still takes some retail orders over the phone,

AND ON TOP OF THAT
Being sure to take full advantage of all the tradition he can. Mr. Esterle also operates a hat shop located in the Executive West Hotel during the 10 days prior to the Derby.
And while he and his shop face many time-crunch obstacles every year. Mr. Esterle is already grimacing at the thought of Derby week 2005, "The Derby is always the first Saturday in May." he says, "and in 2005, it falls on the same weekend as Mother's Day. I always swore I'd be retired before that happened again,"

When the Kentucky Derby started back in 1874, hats were standard attire for ladies. While that may not be the case today, wearing a hat is still a tradition that many women follow at the Derby. In fact, some say that watch¬ing the hats is the unofficial spectator sport of the Derby.
Most ladies wait until they get into town to buy their Derby hats, and over the years, this has turned into a nice side business for people like Mr. Esterle. Most of his hats range in price from $100 to about $350.

"When I had my shop in the hotel, I designed and displayed a few hats one year, and they all sold. So I started making more and more each year. Last year, I sold more than 300 hats," says Mr. Esterle, who now rents a small space in the same hotel just to sell hats during Derby week.
"About 90 percent of my clients are from out of state. They'll bring in the outfits they plan to wear, and we'll trim hats to match," he continues. Some hats require more work than others, but nearly all the hats feature silk flowers as opposed to fresh. .
 

 

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