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Thunder Is A Tradition, Even For Vendors

Thunder Over Louisville brings fireworks and jet planes to downtown Louisville. It also brings toys, thousands of toys.

Shawn DeVooght brings the toys. He hauls bubble guns, noise makers and stuffed animals in a tractor trailer from Milwaukee, where he lives.

He's been transporting toys to Thunder for nearly two decades. He travels to a handful of other events across the country each year, too, but Thunder is special.

"This is our favorite event of the year," he said early Friday morning.

He likes the culture — the parade, the balloon drop, the horse racing.

"There's no other event like it, anywhere," he said. "It's a community holiday."

Profits are pretty good, too, he said.

Hundreds of thousands of people pack in to Waterfront Park for the show and thousands more come and go during the following week leading-up to the Kentucky Derby.

"People are going to come and they’re going to have a good day no matter how bad the economy is," he said.  "They’re going to buy their kid a toy, because it's once a year."

DeVooght's rag-tag group of a dozen or so sleep in a trailer parked at the Expo Center. They've got bunk beds and there's some showers nearby.

When it comes time for the show he'll have up to 50 people fanned out across Waterfront Park, hawking swag kids crave.

He's seen how efforts to expand Waterfront Park eastward have allowed for better viewing opportunities and larger crowds.

He's seen how the United States' involvement in overseas conflict affects the airshow.

"There was much less planes," he said.

And he sees many of the same faces, year after year. Loyal customers and families that sit in the same spot. He's forged relationships and watched young children grow into adults.

"It's amazing," he said.

DeVooght has sold toys in rain, in cold and under sunny skies. The weather, he said, might mess with his profit, but it doesn't keep him away.

"We have to get out there and do our thing, no matter what," he said.

He's pretty busy during the show. Running around the park, checking on employees, making sure they have what they need in order to make a sale.

But each year he makes sure to look through the crowd, in to the sky and catch the show.

"I sure do."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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