Central Avenue is where youâ€™ll find the worldâ€™s most legendary racetrack; but for party central, ride on out to Jeffersontown. If an item is horse-related and can be worn, eaten, displayed or otherwise enjoyed, the odds are good that it can be found at Becky Bieselâ€™s Party Kits & Equestrian Gifts, 10920 Plantside Drive.
Biesel opened her business in 1979, after working briefly for the Kentucky Derby Festival. The organizationâ€™s gift gallery sold a small selection of party kits comprising invitations, banners, swizzle sticks, tote tickets and cocktail napkins â€“ but only during the weeks before the race.
â€œPeople came in at other times to see what they sold that represented the Derby, for hospitality rooms and things like that,â€ she said. â€œI saw that there was a year-round market, so I asked if I could take over the party kits.â€
When Biesel received the go-ahead, she and her late husband, Andy, went to the library to compile a list of phone numbers from out-of-state directories. They developed a two-color brochure with photos taken by him, and produced their first gift items: paper plates depicting a green horse and jockey, and red roses around the rim. They packaged them in sets of ten, instead of the usual eight. Unable to afford professional shrink-wrapping, Biesel bought plastic wrap and, with help from her mother, â€œbakedâ€ the sets in the oven.
â€œThe printer wouldnâ€™t make the plates unless I ordered half a million. It was five years before I told Andy how many Iâ€™d had to order that first time,â€ she said. â€œWe shipped them to 48 states. We didnâ€™t do Hawaii and Alaska that year, but Iâ€™ve hit all 50 since then.â€
Orders now come from distant lands as well, including New Zealand, South Korea, Guam and Bangladesh. Kentucky Derby fans around the world order officially licensed items such as glasses, napkins and posters, but also mint julep syrup.
â€œTheyâ€™ll even order candy,â€ she said. â€œWe just pray that it reaches them.â€
Many treats are made by The Sweet Shoppe, which has long been associated with the store and now has adjoining showroom space. Party Kits & Equestrian Gifts carries Kentucky-made products whenever possible, but many items are manufactured elsewhere.
â€œIâ€™ve learned that when people come in with a new product, you donâ€™t pay attention to how they look,â€ she said. â€œThey come up with some of the darndest things.â€ The make-your-own-bourbon jar, for example, which includes oak chips (add â€œwhite lightningâ€ and a little patience); and toilet paper imprinted with equine motifs.
The Biesels have come up with many ideas of their own, including packets of Thoroughbred horse manure, which sell well and helped earn them attention in Playboy and the Wall Street Journal.
The newest items include a Triple Crown chocolate assortment that features mint julep bourbon balls (for the Derby), dark chocolate toffee meltaways (the Preakness), and milk chocolate raspberry meltaways (the Belmont). Gleaming trays and bowls with horse designs have arrived, and can carry food from freezer to oven without breaking their stride.
Party Kits & Equestrian Gifts has a retail catalog as well as a wholesale one, which is for tack shops and other party stores. The catalogs list more than 400 items, while the showroom displays even more.
Among Bieselâ€™s most loyal customers are businesses that use Derby-themed products in employee sales competitions. The Tulsa (Oklahoma) Boysâ€™ Home orders items to use in raising funds; so enthusiastic is that institution about horses, its therapeutic equine program recently acquired the four-legged star of â€œSeabiscuit.â€
As May 5 approaches, Biesel is making plans to use her Derby box at the track. She has another one that she makes available for worthy causes on other race days.
â€œIt can be auctioned off â€“ thatâ€™s what the Tulsa Boysâ€™ Home does. It has eight seats and a TV, and itâ€™s just past the finish line. Customers can call me if they want to use it,â€ she said, then laughed. â€œBut if they win the pick-six, they have to share.â€
Party Kits & Equestrian Gifts, 10920 Plantside Drive, Suite C, opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit www.derbygifts.com or phone 502.261.7111 or 800.993.3729.Â