“Throw me something, mister!” Crowds yell it to float riders in a parade as it rolls down the streets of Lafayette, Lousiana.
If the float riders are ladies, you might hear the same phrase but with “sister” used instead of "mister."
No matter what people shout out, they all want one thing: to catch loads and loads of beads, trinkets, toys and doubloons thrown by members of the krewe.
You might think the plastic beads and toys are worthless knickknacks. You would be mistaken. Krewe members and float riders spend hundreds – sometimes thousands – of dollars to buy the throws so parade watchers can have a good time and experience the thrill of catching something.
“People are paying for the rock-star experience,” said Greg Grace, owner of Beads for Less on Pinhook Road in Lafayette. “You get to be a celebrity on the stage in your town.”
Grace should know. He is a veteran float rider and belongs to no fewer than three Mardi Gras krewes. He also owns a Mardi Gras store that sells every kind of throw a krewe member might need.
So what does it cost to ride in a parade? Depending on the parade and krewe, the cost can be substantial.
Beads can run anywhere from $25 to $40 per case. Some beads are small and colorful; others are large and elaborate. Some specialty beads have the krewe emblem on them (those have to be specially ordered) or some other decorative items that make them more costly. According to Grace and other retailers, it takes about 10 cases of beads to last the entire parade route.
But that’s just for beads.
These days, Grace said, float riders want something more to wow the crowds.
“Some people don’t throw beads because you get a better reaction from the crowds,” he said. “Throws can run anywhere from under a dollar apiece up to $50 and more per dozen.”
The most popular items include toy footballs, hula hoops, spears, bouncing balls, stuffed animals and other wacky toys. Grace said he only throws items such as these and rarely throws beads.
“When you stand up there and you are holding a hula hoop, the crowd couldn’t care less about the people throwing the beads,” he added.
Most parades last about three hours, so riders need to take that into account and have enough items to last the whole parade. What does that add up to? According to Grace, most riders will spend about $500.
Now, if you are on a budget or you want to go green with your throws, you could always go with recycled beads from LARC’s Mardi Gras Beads-N-More store.
LARC provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities and helps to integrate them into the community by providing jobs and income for them. Every year, the organization accepts donations of beads and throws, which are then sorted and packaged for resale by LARC clients.
The store’s prices are hard to beat, said job development manager Carthy Guillet, because all the throws are recycled.
“Our recycled beads' prices are the best, and even our new recycled ones are pretty low-cost,” she said.
Additionally, buying beads at the nonprofit's store helps fund LARC programs. Guillet said bead sales net anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000, which helps serve the developmentally disabled community.
She said cases of beads at the store run between $10 and $16. Throws, which include bags of toys and stuffed animals, can run anywhere from $1 all the way up to $8. Specialty beads cost anywhere from $1 to $6.
Guillet urges anyone who wants to buy from the Beads-N-More store to stop by or call ahead for large orders. Guillet added that it is not unusual for the store to sell out before the season is finished.
"We've had people come in and spend thousands," she said. "Sometimes they will see a giant pack of toys or beads and buy everything we have."
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Got hundreds? That's how much Mardi Gras beads can set you back