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Kentucky Derby Week Brings Out Neighborhood's Entrepreneurial Spirit

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Churchill Downs is a place where people can make a few bucks—with a little luck at the betting windows.

But outside the Louisville landmark, small-scale entrepreneurs line the front yards and sidewalks jockeying to earn some cash, too.

Parking. Bottled water. Rides. Slow-smoked barbecue.

About 100,000 people were expected at the Kentucky Oaks on Friday—and more will attend the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Those patrons likely had the option of buying all sorts of goods on their walk to track from people who've set up shop for just these races days.
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'Welcome to Kentucky'

Cornelius Sheckles started loading meat onto his two large smokers in the front of his Rodman Street home at about 8 a.m. this morning.

Pulled pork, Italian sausage, rib tips, jerk chicken, green beans and smoked cabbage were on the menu for Oaks and Derby day.

Sheckles, 43, learned the art of barbecuing from his grandfather.

Hi front yard was stocked to feed hungry race-goers as they make their way from the track. He's been setting up on Oaks and Derby for several years and said business "can be up or down," but he's expecting good business this year.

"Anybody who's hungry, you can stop right here," he said. "Welcome to Kentucky."

Not Your Average Birthday

At noon on Oaks day, Brandon Smith, 13, stood in the middle of the street outside his Iowa Avenue home shouting at passing cars in an attempt to get the driver to park in his front yard.

But it's not just parking. Smith—who was celebrating his birthday on Friday—was  also grilling hot dogs, hamburgers, and selling bottled water and soda from a cooler on his front porch.

"Just trying to make some money," he said.

And he's doing it. In just 10 minutes he reeled an SUV into his lawn for $20, tossed a few Mountain Dews to a neighbor for $2 each. Later, he planned to attend a block party—and he said he could make money there, too.

Last year, he said his dance moves netted him $72.

'Go To College'

The front of Shirley Weathers' home on Rodman Street, just a few blocks north of Churchill Downs, was adorned with red and white blanketed tables, empty serving platters and coolers.

In a few hours, she hoped to have the tables and trays stocked with grilled meats and veggies, she said.

Weathers, 74, has recruited a bulk of her large family to sell food and drinks to raise money to help pay her granddaughter's tuition. Her granddaughter, Alice, is a first year student at University of Louisville.

"I tell all young people, go to college, save that money," she said.

'It's a Party'

Dontell Watson spent Friday slowly driving a golf cart around the neighborhoods just north of Churchill Downs.

"Picking up people and bringing them to the gate," he said. "It's a party, everybody's here, everybody's in a good mood. People are drinking; it's a very jovial time."

Watson, 29, drove down from Washington, D.C., to transport people as close to the track as possible.

He said he expected to make about $1,500 in tips on Oaks day alone. And the tips, he said, is all he works for.

"I let the customer decide," he said. "Sometimes I get $2, sometimes I get $30,—it just depends on the individual."

And he said his work Friday contributed to the economic vitality of the Kentucky Derby.

"This is a service to the people who come to support the Derby and ultimately support the economy of Louisville and jobs and employment," he said. "If the people are out here working, they're not out doing other things, they're not committing crimes, —they're making a positive living."

 

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.