Poché, San Francisco plantations to start fall crafts fairs

Festivals can’t be handed down like keepsakes, so when Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie recently decided to end its longtime arts and crafts event, it left a vacuum for the fourth weekend of October.

Not anymore.

Two east bank Mississippi River plantations, Poché Plantation in Convent and San Francisco Plantation in Garyville, have announced plans to create their own new fall festivals, in the absence of Oak Alley’s, on the same weekend, Oct. 25-26 this year.

While crafts vendors will have to choose between the two venues, the fourth weekend of October should provide a bonanza for shoppers who don’t mind traveling the 20 miles between Poché Plantation, on La. 44 (River Road) in St. James Parish and San Francisco Plantation, farther down River Road in St. John the Baptist Parish.

“The two shows are close enough together the customers will hit both of them,” said Joyce Guy, one of the owners of Spare Time Fun, of Plaquemine.

Guy, who crafts ironwork planters and wall decorations and sold items at Oak Alley’s festival for at least 17 years, said she’ll be bringing her wares to the new crafts show at Poché Plantation this fall.

“It’s a great location for the show,” Guy said.

Last month, Oak Alley Plantation — across the river on La. 18, the west bank River Road in St. James Parish — announced it would no longer be holding its biannual arts and crafts festival that began 23 years ago, so it could concentrate on new exhibits and educational features.

Each of Oak Alley’s festivals, held in the spring and fall, attracted more than 170 vendors from across the country and more than 10,000 visitors.

Tom Gates, with Fun Time TN Rentals, near Knoxville, Tennessee, was a regular vendor at the Oak Alley festivals, with a bungee-trampoline activity for children.

The Oak Alley festival was on a regular circuit of such events for his business, Gates said.

The ending of the biannual festival meant “a significant loss of income,” Gates said.

“We were thrilled when San Francisco Plantation picked up the event,” he said.

San Francisco Plantation is currently closed for a $1.3 million restoration and will reopen in September, just in time for its new festival in October, said Kim Fontenot, general manager.

For seven years, the plantation has held a musical evening in November called “San Francisco presents the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.”

Now the new arts and crafts festival on Oct. 25-26 will be its fall event, Fontenot said.

“We’re trying to name our festival now. It’s very important for me to try to keep these vendors together. They’ve worked very hard to get to the level they are,” Fontenot said of the former Oak Alley vendors.

The San Francisco is part of a group of plantations that includes Oak Alley, Laura (on La. 18 in Vacherie) and Houmas House (on the east bank River Road in the Ascension Parish community of Darrow), which combine their resources for joint advertising, Fontenot said.

Oak Alley feels like a “sister plantation,” she said.

Fontenot said she doesn’t want “to have any kind of conflict” over the Oct. 25-26 fall festival date.

She said, though, that when she learned Poché Plantation was planning an event for the same weekend, she felt “really sad that two (venues) are trying to do this.”

San Francisco also holds a springtime arts and crafts show called the Frisco Festival, which will mark its 12th anniversary next year on March 7-8.

For the Poché Plantation in Convent, its arts and crafts show on Oct. 25-26 will be its first venture into festivals, said plantation owner Mark Anderson.

The festival will be a fundraising event for charities in St. James Parish, Anderson said.

“I think it will become the charitable event of the year for the parish,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he’s gotten a good response from vendors for the new venue.

He also plans to have a crafts festival in the spring.

“They’re our neighbors, and we don’t wish them any bad venues,” Anderson said of San Francisco, “but we feel confident about the vendors” coming to Poché Plantation.

“Who knows? They might draw some (vendors) from New Orleans we didn’t draw,” Anderson said.

San Francisco is further down river, toward New Orleans, than Poché Plantation.

“We do like the idea that anyone is going to bring a new festival or any new event to the region,” said Hillary Loeber, director of sales with Oak Alley Plantation.

“We do wish everyone the best of luck. Hopefully it all works out for everyone,” Loeber said.