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Miller said Mardi Gras gowns are usually over-the-top and are more fun than traditional formal ware.

The store has vanloads of women from small towns all over the region who come to shop. Some buy five or six gowns for the various balls they attend during the season.

“Mardi Gras has grown and grown and brings millions of dollars into our economy,” she said, although she didn’t have specific figures.

In Pascagoula, Miss., crawfish are the local Mardi Gras delicacy and seafood retailers do big business, said city spokeswoman Robin Wood.

“There is a lot of crawfish and beer served during Mardi Gras season, a lot of seafood eaten,” she said. “Mardi Gras definitely a boost to our economy because you have people coming in for the events and you have people renting tuxedos for the balls and buying throws for the floats and things here locally.”

Other Mississippi towns including Gulf Port, Ocean Springs and Biloxi have their own events.

Florida Gulf Coast cities add their own, more laid-back twist to the season with beach-inspired events often aimed at boosting tourism in the offseason.

Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Destin and Panama City Beach have Mardi Gras festivities.

People who might go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras sometimes drive east and include a beach trip to Pensacola, Fla., said Valeria Lento, spokeswoman for Visit Pensacola.

Lento said Mardi Gras drives up the town’s tourism numbers during its traditional pre-spring break down time.

And the city offers lots of Mardi Gras activities to bring in tourists.

Small towns all over the Gulf Coast have parades, balls and other festivities during Carnival Season. Pensacola Beach’s 2012 Mardi Gras’ Schedule includes 16 events from Jan. 7 to Feb. 21.

Among them are a Moon Pie party, a red beans and rice lunch, a “Kids and Kritters” parade and a shoe box float contest.

“Oh yeah, Mardi Gras is a ball, absolutely, it’s fun,” said Jill Jones, who dressed her Afghan hound up in a headband, jester collar and cape and wore a matching costume during the beach’s pet parade this month.