Dig Baton Rouge

The Business of Beads

By Cody Worsham

For both Debra Maddox Fournet and Brian Dimartino, the parades never stop.

Fournet, owner of Party Paradise, and DiMartino, owner of Carnival Mart, are two of Baton Rouge’s biggest bead suppliers, and that means when the wheels stop rolling after St. Patrick’s day, it’s time to order more.

“We’re direct importers at Carnival Mart,” said Dimartino, “so we’ll start placing orders within the next week (after St. Patrick’s Day) for the following year. It takes all throughout the summer months to get in, so we stockpile during the summer and get ready to go around Christmas.”

“Right after Christmas,” Fournet said, “[Party Paradise] gears up for Mardi Gras.”

Fournet started out wanting to do costumes, but when she decided to open Party Paradise in 1984, “costuming was not that big a deal in Baton Rouge.”

“I decided I should open a party store if I wanted to make a living,” she said. “So I did, which was one of the first party stores in the city.”

Dimartino, meanwhile, was born into the business. Opened in 1969 by his parents, Carnival Mart has always been a part of his life.

“I was a young kid when we got into the business,” he said, “and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s all I’ve ever done.”

Between them, the two business owners have 75 years of parade experience under their belts, and the business process has changed little in those years. Orders are placed to Chinese exporters nine months to a year before parades begin. Summers are spent stocking up, and when Christmas comes and goes, the bead harvesting begins.

“We do some custom work if we know themes of Krewes,” said Fournet. “We’ll do some custom work for maids and kings and queens. Unfortunately it has to be done so far in advance, and lot of Krewes don’t get themes early enough.

“We can do custom work late, but that entails having it air freighted in. It adds a considerable amount of cost.”

Dimartino says the biggest change in 45 years has been growth, in both the industry and the product itself.

“We do a lot more business,” he said, citing a spike in parade numbers over the last few decades. “The items have changed over the years. The beads items now, everything is a fancier type bead with ornaments hanging off of it. Years ago it was plain plastic, iridescent, short choker-style beads. Now its pearlized finish, metallic finish, fancy stuff with logos on it, different themed beads. That took off in the ’90s and has had a grip ever since.”

Neither store recycles beads; Fournier said the risk involved in cleaning beads and evaluating lead content makes buying new each year more cost efficient. But parade-goers who want to get rid of their haul do have recycling options, like one offered by The Arc of Baton Rouge. Through its Metro Enterprises division, the group – which supports the full inclusion and participation of developmentally disabled citizens in society – does bead recycling after Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day parades in the area.

“We take donations of the beads that have been thrown and individuals we employ do an entrepreneurialship,” said Christine Dunlevy, Arc’s Director of Metro Enterprises. “They separate them by size and color, and we sell them back to he community.”

All individuals part of entrepreneurialship are adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, Dunlevy said. The group sells beads by the pound back to the community, and has even held discussions with local Krewes about providing beads for future parades.

Dunlevy said the group accepts donations year-round at two locations in Baton Rouge: 2082 Dallas Dr. and 3950 Prescott Rd. They will also be set up near City Park for the St. Patrick’s Day parades, ready to relieve passersby of their heavy neckwear.

“Those beads are hard to carry back to your cars,” Dunlevy said.

 

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