By CONNIE LEONARD | WAVE 3 News
Kentucky boutiques and milliners were hit hard when the coronavirus temporarily closed their stores and shut down their biggest moneymakers of the year in May — the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby.
The news of getting fans back to the track is huge for local businesses; not only will they be able to sell plenty of Derby merchandise they already had on the shelves, but many are now adding masks for women and men.
“We don’t leave the men out; we have this Derby fabric (navy blue with a horse),” said a smiling Britni Knable, Headcandi milliner and owner of House of K in New Albany.
What a difference just a few words at Churchill Downs can make for Knable and hundreds of other businesses in Greater Louisville. Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery made the announcement Thursday that “we are going to conduct Derby week with fans.”
Like winning a race or hopefully more like a jackpot at the track, Knable said she was pleasantly surprised to hear the news. All the masks she’s been making since March will now be a hot seller.
“I’ve definitely turned my store into a mask-making store, from dress seller to hat designer to hatmaker now, we have hundreds of materials you can come in and pick them out,” she said.
Also feeling great about the news is Lulubelles Boutique owner Natalie Gerlach.
“I’m really excited about it,” she said, adding that she hasn’t had this feeling since before the coronavirus hit. “It’s been a struggle. I think for everybody it’s been really hard just being shut down for all those months.”
Now, her staff is getting all the fancy fascinators, dresses and shoes ready for the first week in September, as well as more casual looks for home parties many customers will also go to, as her big season is back.
“The fact that Derby is still going to go on and people have an excuse to go and get dressed up finally and buy something, I think it’s going to be a huge boost,” Gerlach said.
For those who want to be festive and want it custom, Dee’s in St. Matthews is ready.
“Derby is our biggest season by far all year,” said Anna Hickman, Dee’s Floral and Hat manager and buyer. “It beats Christmas.”
Derby merchandise is out at Dee’s from hats and fascinators, and if you want to buy the materials to make it yourself, you can. They also have masks and can match them for your outfit. Dee’s was so hopeful Derby would allow fans that it never took down the display.
“We closed for about nine weeks, so before that, we were all geared up and ready to go for Derby,” Hickman said. “When we closed, we just decided to leave the entire display up, and now we’re ready to go.”
Dee’s said it couldn’t be happier about that decision. The business owners say the odds are that it’s going to be hot the first week in September, so the way to go is spring and summer styles.