Tracy Caufield Johnson digs through a stack of boxes and thick manila envelopes, rattling off the states on the mailing addresses: “Arizona, California, New York, New Jersey…”
“We’ve got a Niagara Falls over here,” says one of the shipping room workers, holding up a slim cardboard box packed with Kentucky Derby party favors.
Johnson, who is the third-generation co-owner of Caufield’s Novelty, says most people who live in Louisville probably associate the store with Halloween. The company sponsors a signature spooky parade and has a giant bat affixed to its building overlooking 10th Street, after all.
But Johnson says the Derby is a lucrative, yearlong business for the costume and novelty shop.
“While we do the other holidays, Derby and Halloween are our two ‘number ones,’” Johnson says.
That wasn’t always the case. While the store itself began selling “tricks and jokes” in about 1920, the big Derby demand didn’t hit until the rise of the internet. That’s when Caufield’s started getting shipping requests for jockey silks and “Run for the Roses” yard signs from Kentucky transplants in Tuscaloosa and party store owners in Staten Island.
“For the general population, ‘horse and jockey’ is not a huge party theme,” Johnson says. “But for those fans of the Kentucky Derby or here in Louisville, or even people across the country who are just followers of horse racing, we’re one of the places you can actually get that kind of thing.”
Some of the merchandise is unique to Caufield’s. The store designs its own brand of horse racing-themed party supplies and favors.
“This is a lot of the items we actually do ourselves” Johnson says as she runs her hands through some beaded necklaces with plastic horse charms. “We’ve got the horse and jockey place settings, the roses confetti, the big giant horse and jockey cut-out.”
You’ve probably seen some of these — even if you haven’t stepped foot in Caufield’s since last October.
“The items that we have made, we sell to the retail stores in town,” Johnson says. “You might go into Kroger or Liquor Barn or several other Hallmark stores, liquor stores, party stores, and purchase our stuff from them. “
This year, they delivered to 58 Kroger stores across Kentucky. They are also the largest independent distributor of licensed Kentucky Derby julep glasses.
And like Halloween, which is also obviously a yearlong business for the Caulfields, the planning process for Derby never really ends.
“As soon as Derby is over, we start figuring out this is what we need, this is what we are going to do for next year,” Johnson says.