As Mardi Gras parade routes shorten at last minute, some New Orleans businesses lose out
Before the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus cut its parade route nearly in half last weekend, Mowgli Pierlas had been gearing up for the busiest night of the year.
Owner of Kajun’s Pub and Arabella Casa Di Pasta on St. Claude Avenue, where the Star Wars-themed parade typically rolls, Pierlas had prepared to have extra staff on hand, ordered enough booze to stock a portable bar for passerby and bought bulk amounts of ingredients for a special parade-night limited menu at the restaurant.
“Most businesses will tell you they’ll do a week’s worth of business in four hours,” Pierlas said.
But this year, he ended up needing little of the ordered supplies, estimating that he hit only 45% of 2020 Chewbacchus night sales, the last Mardi Gras season that rolled as normal before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Months ago, the city announced that most parade routes — including all Uptown parades, Endymion and Fat Tuesday parades — will be shortened this year due to lack of first responder staffing. But the city only begins activating the New Orleans Police Department at its full capacity for Mardi Gras on Friday, Feb 18.
For parades that fall before that — like Chewbacchus and this weekend’s Krewe du Vieux — krewes must hire an off-duty officer through the Office of Police Secondary Employment, and officers can choose whether or not to cover the event on their own time.
“Paid details are not mandatory and are staffed on a volunteer basis by officers seeking to earn additional income through OPSE,” said an NOPD spokesperson in an email to WWNO on Friday.
When too few police officers signed up to voluntarily cover the Chewbacchus parade, the krewe cut its St. Claude portion out with less than 48 hours till go-time. Two weeks ago, Krewe du Vieux announced it would cut out the Marigny portion of its Feb. 12 satirical walking parade for similar reasons.
The changes have left business owners on St. Claude and in the Marigny scrambling.
Across the street from Pierlas’ businesses, the new owners of Kebab had prepared to reopen the casual Mediterranean eatery on Chewbacchus night.
“We were depending on that to be the big money maker that kind of supported us through the summer,” said Amanda OIfert-McCrea, who co-owns Kebab with her husband. She estimated Kebab had about half as many customers as they would on a typical Chewbacchus night.
Still, Olfert-McCrea was grateful for the support Kebab received from its neighbors.
“People definitely went out of their way to come in before the parade and after the parade,” she said. “The people that did come tipped really, really well.”
For business owners who have contended with nearly two years of the pandemic and Hurricane Ida, the route-shortenings are cause for more last-minute pivots.
Normally, Krewe du Vieux would roll right past Pepp’s Pub at Franklin and Royal. This year, the krewe will assemble closer to the French Quarter, at Elysian Fields and Royal.
Pepp’s owner Sam Wurth expects to see a slower night than usual for the parade.
“This whole time, there’s been such little notice for bars and restaurants when it comes to opening, closing, new rules, new things,” he said. “This is another example of just a really quick, snap decision, and we’re all expected just to adjust with it.”
Even with the last-minute route change for Chewbacchus, Pepp’s saw its busiest day in months.
“That said, it was still significantly less revenue than most years,” Wurth said.
Chewbacchus’ sudden route changes prompted a movement of support on social media following the announcement, with residents vowing and telling others to patronize the businesses left off the new route.
Olfert-MCcrea hopes that kind of support from parade-goers can continue during Krewe du Vieux and the rest of Carnival season.
“Just keep showing love to your favorite local bars and restaurants, because it means the world to us,” she said. “We’ve all been struggling financially since the beginning of COVID. But just knowing that your community cares means a lot.”