Marketplace bustling: Houma market brings community together

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It is 6 a.m. and Cheryl Sawyer is among more than a dozen vendors and artisans preparing for another Saturday. During the week she builds inventory by sewing original children’s clothing, quilts, place mats and other domestic products. On weekends, the person behind Grannie’s Sewing, along with artists, produce growers, fishermen and performers take their wares and talents public.

By 6:30 a.m., Sawyer has made the 15-minute drive from her home to the Terrebonne Waterlife Museum, where she and others offer their goods at the Downtown Houma Market.

Like other participants, Sawyer greets the morning by setting up her open tent and display racks. She unpacks goods from plastic tubs while hoping sales and special orders will do as well as or surpass the previous week.

“It usually takes me about an hour-and-a-half to get ready once I’m here,” Sawyer said with a laugh after she had to stop what she was doing and make a quick trip home to retrieve her money bag and change for the day that she forgot. “It’s going to be a little longer today.”

Other vendors for the morning market include Kathleen Cuneo who is selling pickled vegetables, peppers, jellies and home canned treats. “Squash Delight is the favorite of people here,” she proudly boasts.

Ninety-year-old Edward Legendre has arrived from Chackbay to sell squash, okra and cucumbers out of the back of his pickup. “I grow it on about 10 acres,” he said. “I’ve been [participating in public markets] about 10 years. We can sell a lot of stuff here and it is easy to get here.”

Greg and Ann Sanamo grow a variety of tomatoes as full-time farmers in Lafourche Parish. They, like their counterpart vendors, make the public market circuit on a regular basis.

“This is a full time job,” Greg Sanamo said. “We participate in two other markets during the week. We also sell to wholesalers, grocery stores and the general public. Whoever needs tomatoes – we sell tomatoes.”

Commercial shrimper Lance Nacio of Montegut owns Anna Marie Shrimp. He sets up a tent awning behind his refrigerated truck. A hanging scale, a table and plastic shopping bags is all he needs to sell his fresh catch by the pound.

Award-winning gourd artist Christine Rebert prepares displays of gourd and ostrich egg fine art. She jokes that she moved from Arizona to Louisiana to get away from the heat as she carefully lines out jewelry made from the Cucurbitaceae; each piece appearing to be skillfully cut, polished and set gems.

Members of the Dulac Community Center prepare muffins and fried bread and offer coffee to early customers. Local restaurants, including the Havana Grill present samples of their best sellers. Each week different youth organizations operate a lemonade stand. While in the background Jag Jagneaux and other musicians warm up to perform crowd favorites between this moment and noon.

A variety of vendors and products rapidly grows. The official opening at the Waterlife Museum parking lot, and across Bayou Terrebonne via the walking bridge to Memorial Park, is set to begin.

8 a.m.

Almost to the hour’s minute, older folks wanting to beat the day’s heat and young families with babies in strollers and young children taking in the sights, sounds and aromas begin to arrive.

Jag and Friends perform with Herbert Pitre singing “Blackboard of My Heart,” followed by June Davis leading the crowd in “Jambalaya.” It only takes a few more songs before visitors are gathering in the shade to listen, visit, eat, drink, spend money and even dance during what becomes a festive event.

“The music really makes the difference,” said Gulf Coast Marketplace event manager Brandi LeCompte.

Downtown Houma Market is a cooperative effort of the Downtown Houma Development Corp., Houma Regional Arts Council and Options for Independence’s Gulf Coast Marketplace. Vendors register a few days ahead of time and pay $20 to reserve their spots. The public is given free and unlimited access.

“It all fits together perfectly,” said Arts Council Executive Director Glenda Toups. “The idea is to show people there is life in downtown Houma. The music draws them and keeps them here. The variety of food and arts, well we are about arts.”

“We’d like to invite everyone to come out and enjoy the Downtown Market,” LeCompte said. “There is plenty of room for more seafood, produce and craft vendors. We even invite original song writers to participate.”

Patrons make a circle or two of the area to see what is available. Before long they are conducting strategic stops to fill menus, load-up on fresh produce for the week, or purchase a gift for someone or themselves.

Nacio flashes a smile as shoppers make his spot their final stop before heading home. “It is going good,” he said of pound-by-pound sales on the public market beat. “The shrimp business has been hit hard and catches are down this season. Markets like this help us get the prices we need to continue to operate.”

“People want to see what vendors have to offer and vendors want to wait and see what people want,” LeCompte said.

8:58 a.m.

The first hour is almost complete and Lelendre is down to his last box of squash. “If I don’t sell it here I can take it to Cannata’s,” he said. Within 30 minutes this vendor reports a change of plans after one woman bought what he had left. It is time for this grower to head home and prepare for next week.

Bill and Barbara Hall spend the winters in Houma and the summer at their home in Michigan. They are getting ready to head north for a few months, but before they go Barbara makes a few selections from Sawyer’s goods for a soon-to-be born great grandchild up north. “I make these [children’s clothing] in these sizes,” Sawyer said. “But I have patterns in other sizes and can take orders and ship them.”

Sydney Rogers is spotted arriving at the Downtown Houma Market. The 80-something-year old – most folk are not sure of his exact age and his hearing fails him from telling – is from Mathews and easily recognized as he dances his way through the crowd.

“This is great,” Jane Falgout said as she shops with companion Richard Motley at her side. “I am so glad they have this.”

Carroll Champagne is buying fresh shrimp and has a couple of bags of tomatoes and squash to take home as well. “I am glad they started this,” he said.

“This is fun,” Bill Hall said. “I just come over and walk around and see what people are doing.”

10 a.m.

Networking and expanding opportunities for vendors is a big part of what the Gulf Coast Marketplace and the Downtown Houma Market is about, according to LeCompte. Providing residents and visitors with attractions is good for everyone, added Toups.

Another round is made among the tents and people. Rebert announces with excitement that her products have been so popular this day that she has been invited to teach her craft at the Waterlife Museum. “This is wonderful,” she said.

By the half-hour, the crowd grows on the Wildlife Museum porch as some patrons find a seat shaded from the sun and others continue to shop. The activity draws walkers and bicycle riders to the area. By 10:45 a.m. this part of downtown Houma is abuzz with business and pleasure.

A gentle breeze off the bayou keeps rising temperatures tolerable as the final hour of commerce approaches, but the atmosphere of entertainment continues.

11:15 a.m.

Forty-five minutes remain for operation. Some vendors have sold out of product and begin to take down their folding tables and tents.

Hardliners like Cueno will remain until the last minute even though only about 10 jars of her products remain.

Sawyer cheerfully scoffs at the idea of closing shop early. “I made my biggest sale last week at 12:20 when I was packing,” she said. “No, you don’t want to stop early.”

Members of the Dulac Community Center start passing out the remaining muffins to other vendors, so the leftover fresh product will not go unused.

As for Jag and Friends, the crowd might be thinning, but Bobby Pellegrin picks up his fiddle and the band plays on.


“We need this in downtown Houma,” Rebert said as the market comes to a close. “I love this.”

Sawyer counts receipts and reports she has made $93 for the morning, plus taken three special orders. The take is about $10 better than the previous Saturday.

“These markets take a little while to get established,” Nacio said. “When you have good products you can get a client base developed.”

“One of the things I like about being here is it is paved,” Sawyer said. “The ground is not uneven or muddy. It’s nice and clean.”

“The people that came today were buying stuff and that’s great for the vendors,” LeCompte said. “We hope people will come out on Saturday mornings and buy if it is just for their families or a big gathering.” The market manager added that interested vendors may call her at (985) 438-1231 or send an email to for details.

Sawyer, like the remaining vendors, takes about an hour to pack up her remaining merchandise, fold the tent and clean her area. “I only have about a 15 minute drive home,” she said, noting that she is holding tight to her money bag. “That’s the easy part.”

Lanor Curole, left, buys a tomato from Greg and Ann Sanamo.