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Unique small businesses for Carnival

Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Vendors on St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, Carnival Tuesday 2014. PHOTO: ANDRE ALEXANDER

Whether you love Carnival’s energy or flee it like the plague, it’s an unavoidable entity, like floods in the wet season or hangovers after copious rum. While big bandleaders and party promoters have long ago figured out ways to profit from the season, there’s also room for the creative and determined small businessman. Here we list a few Carnival business-related ideas, some real, many imaginary, that could find happy patrons.

Lyrics writer for soca singers: Due to alarming shortages of imagination and possibly language skills, there is a huge vacuum in T&T Carnival songwriting despite the annual multitude of soca songs—just try to listen to any ten typical songs of the season, consecutively. Although there are always a few gems, generally you’ll hear many boring, copycat iterations of “bumper”, “wine”, “bambilambam-bilambilambam”, “Ah have it hard”, and similar lyrical nuggets.

At the opposite extreme, too many conventional calypsos have dull tunes, and preach at you as if you were in need of a good caning from your grandfather’s schoolmaster. If you can write a half-decent song with a catchy rhythm—bonus points for humour, use of similes, metaphors, witty, poetic or perceptive language, and pretty much any theme outside of the female bottom (which is already amply addressed)—you could make a killing.

Special street foods: You name it, they sell it on the street at Carnival time. From mystery meat in a bun to Chinese noodles, one-pot dishes like pelau, or more mobile foods-to-go like wraps, gyros, corn soup or light nibbles, small food vendors can make a tidy profit at this time. If you can offer something that’s easy to eat, not too messy, and tasty to boot, chances are you’ll make some change.

For the hungry reveller, it’s also good to check that your food vendor of the moment actually has a food badge, and access to clean water. Even itinerant vendors are supposed to have a valid food badge—which means they are clean, make food in hygienic places, use food tongs, have been certified by a public health inspector, and do not handle food or money at the same time (in theory).

Thirst quenchers: All that hot sun makes Carnival ripe for drinks sales. Alcohol of all stripes is always popular, but so too are totally non-alcoholic drinks. Soft drinks, water, unique flavoured waters, cold coconut water, cheerful sno-cones and even freshly squeezed fruit juices can all be life-savers for the sweat-challenged masses.

Party buses: Enterprising folks in T&T have adapted the idea of the pub crawl, so popular in Dublin and other thirsty places, to our own unique tastes. Enter the party bus, where you pay an admission fee and get to drink all you want for the night to loud music, either in the vehicle, or at designated “hot-spot” stopovers. A party bus could be upscale or downscale: a maxi taxi, a big retired omnibus, or even a stretch limousine. The best part? No drunk driving. The worst part? Possibly the company, if you don’t know who they are beforehand.

Party clothes/accessories: If it’s one thing T&T ladies like, it’s cute party clothes—especially those that reveal and conceal in correct proportions, while being durable enough for unexpected, possibly straining dance moves. Even regular, fun t-shirts will sell at Carnival, more so if they are well-designed. And zippered, waterproof, sturdy small “party bags” that can securely hold a cellphone, vex money and keys as you chip or dance or J’Ouvert on the road, are always popular.

One-stop wining lessons for tourists: Ever seen those sorry foreigners who do strange things with their lower bodies and call it dancing? Rather than shake your head, how about having roving dance instructors, who for a small fee will give personalised, professional Carnival dance lessons to the uninitiated?

Wining self-defence classes: When trapped between two music trucks and buffeted by waves of people (unless you’re “behind the ropes” of an all-inclusive mas band), it may come to pass that strange but happy people will dance with you, on you, at you, in unwanted ways. To avoid such unsolicited yet enthusiastic contacts, the same tutor of wining (see previous example of a business entrepreneur) should also offer “anti-wining” tips and techniques, as a form of Carnival self-defence.

Bodyguards: This small business opportunity may become increasingly popular as crime waves increase. All-inclusive mas bands have long hired their own professional security. The idea can be adapted to smaller limes. Can provide useful work for unemployed gangsters, martial arts experts, or your neighbourhood big muscle man (or woman).

Boomsie guards: Similar to bodyguards, but less military (not armed), and possessing specialised body skills in both dancing and operation as a pelvic defence shield against other unwanted dancers. May be hired by men or women.

Fluorescent Carnival condoms: A longstanding belief in T&T is that the unplanned pregnancy rate rises in February, with lots of October babies. But enterprising businessfolk might do some helpful as well as profitable business by selling creative, humourous, effective prophylactics of all kinds—and maybe even get sponsorship from the Family Planning Association. Imagine mobile, human condom dispensers decked out like Pierrot Grenades...

Carnival tours: Many locals prefer to organise their own limes. But for the total foreigner, or even the local who doesn’t get out much, how about a Carnival tour guide who, for varying fees, offers a tailored itinerary of experiences and venues, both a few days before Carnival (eg scenic nature trips, beaches, landmarks of interest in various parts of T&T) and during Carnival (selected fetes, street-walk limes, concerts, make-your-own-mask sessions, off-the-beaten-path experiences, or a mix of these things)? The more flexible, knowledgeable and entertaining the guides are, the more business they may win. Ideally, they would be trained, certified tour guides with some imagination, some historical and environmental knowledge, and the ability to tell a great story about anything they visit.

J’Ouvert buses: There is always a problem for pedestrians who play messy J’Ouvert in places far from home: most forms of public transit will simply not accept you. What about a Carnival small business that offers “wet buses”? There could be outdoor hoses or showers to clean off most muck, followed by group travel in plastic-wrapped bus seats.

Post-mas foot massages: After all the exertion, many revellers head to the beach to relax. And what better therapy than to have roving foot masseurs offer you their podiatric and/or reflexological tender loving care?


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