Ponchatoula landmark Country Market is 40

When four women gathered 40 years ago to create a place for local residents to sell their wares, no one could have imagined it would stand the test of time.

Forty years later, located in its original home in the downtown train depot, the Country Market, where shoppers can browse for art, collectables, crafts and antiques, is thriving.

Margie Marcombe, of Ponchatoula, has been selling dolls, handmade jewelry and room fragrances at the market for about 11 years. She said business is booming. Her shelves, lined with dolls just a few days ago, were just about empty Friday as Marcombe waited for a new shipment.

On Oct. 12, Marcombe, residents and visitors to the popular tourist destination will celebrate the market’s 40th birthday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an open house, commemorative program, entertainment and refreshments.

The market was established July 5, 1973, by Pat Richardson, Ruby Drude, Ruth Thibodeaux and Mildred Glover.

It continues to be one of the oldest continuous businesses in downtown Ponchatoula.

Market board member Judy Berner flipped through old scrapbooks containing photos of the market’s mascot, the deceased alligator Old Hardhide, and photos of a mock train robbery and railcars moved to and from the train depot. She also prepared to post old news articles about the market on the freshly painted walls in preparation for the event.

“We’re still basically what we were when the market was founded in 1973,” Berner said. “We operate on the basic principle of leasing booths to vendors for the sale of arts and crafts, food, clothing, jewelry, baby items and unique gifts and souvenirs.”

More than 20 vendors, all chosen by the board’s selection committee, sell their wares at the market, many of whom have done so for years, Berner said.

Berner said the market offers what many places today don’t: Handmade items.

“You just don’t see a lot of handmade items anymore but they’re very popular,” she said.

In July, more than 300 people from 10 states and just about every parish in Louisiana visited the Country Market, Berner said.

“We have people come in here from all over the country, from all walks of life,” said board member Texie Young, who has worked at the market for more years than she could remember. “We had a lady come in here from Australia this morning. They take all kinds of souvenirs back. This part of the country is unusual for them.”

“You never know who’s going to walk through those doors,” Berner said.

Polly Robertson, of Grove Hill, Ala., said she made sure to stop at the Country Market on Friday while she was in town visiting family members.

Robertson, who has visited the market three times, said she first read about it on the internet.

“I never leave without purchasing something,” Robertson said.

The idea for the Country Market originated with Richardson, who had visited a market crafts cooperative in Henderson, N.C., in the early 1970s. At the time, the Illinois Central Railroad had discontinued routine stops in Ponchatoula and had closed the depot.

The original concept of the market included preserving the old depot building, providing an outlet for locally grown produce and a centralized location for exhibiting and selling arts and crafts.

The farmers market never materialized, Berner said.

The arts and crafts aspect quickly caught on, possibly because the Country Market was the only business that specialized in that type of merchandise at the time.

Since its inception, the Country Market has continued to be the cornerstone of the downtown economy. Many of the present-day downtown antique shops have followed the market’s original concept of leasing booths to vendors.

The market itself operates a booth, with proceeds going into fixing the more than 100-year-old building, Berner said.

Except for the addition of paint and central air conditioning and heat, the building was last renovated in 1920 and still includes the telegraph station and two ticket windows.

For information, call (985) 386-9580 or visit ponchatoulacountrymarket.org.