DENHAM SPRINGS — Random rain showers scattered throughout the region Saturday held off in the morning hours allowing thousands of visitors to peruse the shops and browse through the many crafts and food booths at the Denham Springs Antique Village Spring Festival.
Elvin Watts and Al Bye, partners of Theatre Antiques and chief organizers to the twice-a-year festivals, said that while the crowds were down slightly because of the impending rainy weather, about 6,000 visitors appeared to be crowding the several blocks of Range Avenue in Historic Downtown Denham Springs that is home to the event. The area is the main venue for the dozens of antique shops and keepsake stores that attract visitors to the festivals.
Watts said the fall and spring antique village festivals are designed to invigorate the antique district that counts about 25 stores.
“We have been holding our Antique Village Festivals for about 18 years now and they grow some each year,” Bye said. “We draw people from throughout Southeast Louisiana and neighboring states. It just seems like people love coming here whether or not they are antique collectors. With all the booths lining the streets, there is something of interest for just about everyone.”
Bye said the festival is a “boost” to the antique dealers who have worked hard to make Denham Springs’s Antique Village area a year-round attraction to those who enjoy owning souvenirs of the past.
For this year’s spring edition of the festival, about 150 vendors set up their tents down the middle of Range Avenue and adjacent Mattie Street. A wide variety of items were on sale including traditional street food, hand sewn clothing items, specialty cosmetic offerings, general information booths about community services, and the products of numerous artists working in a wide variety of media.
Festival visitors were also treated to entertainment. At one end of the street James and Jim Hogg, a father and son duo, held the attention of a large gathering as they performed 18th and 19th century music on a variety of antique instruments. The duo interlaced stories about moments in history with their music. At the other end of the street, several bands took turns belting out songs that kept the crowds entertained.
But the focus of the festival remained squarely on all the antique items available for browsing and buying in the antique shops. For example, Florence and Charles Crowder were enjoying a steady stream of visitors at their antique store.
“This is always a great day … we see a lot of people we don’t see at other times of the year,” Florence Crowder said. “Some of them come in, look at the things we have to sell, and then come back later to make some purchases. The festival gives us visibility that we would not otherwise have.
“Those who enjoy owning antiques know the value of what they are acquiring. They enjoy the quality and craftsmanship that went into making the antiques. Plus the value … if you buy a new piece of furniture, it starts to depreciate the minute you walk out of the store. However, antiques continue to grow in value the longer you hold on to them. Besides, those who appreciate the past, our history, just enjoy owning things that bring back memories and keep our history alive.”
Bob Laspe, who lives near the Antique Village, said he owns some antiques and just enjoys going through the stores to see what’s for sale. Now retired, Laspe said he has the time to browse the antique stores and look at “old stuff” that brings back memories of his youth and a different time when life was slower and people didn’t have all the conveniences they have today.
Back on the street, the vendors under their tents were showing off their products and interacting with curious customers. Festivalgoers had many products to peruse and explore. Several booths featuring original art seemed to draw most of the attention.
Leroy and Karen Aucoin, of Baton Rouge, had perhaps the most colorful art pieces for sale: brilliantly painted, fanciful birds made from PVC pipe. Aucoin said that they have been regular vendors at the antique festival and business has been good.
Carroll L. Gautreaux, of Opelousas, demonstrated all-metal, three-dimensional paintings that he makes by cutting out the metal pieces and then painstakingly painting them. The paintings are then mounted on cypress boards. He calls his work “French Metal” and he tries to capture scenes from the past representative of how people lived in rural Louisiana many years ago.
Promoting products at the festival was not reserved for the artist, cooks and craftsmen. Four women used the occasion to promote a tanning process by having visitors guess which of the quartet had used the tanning product. Taylor Crosby, of Livingston; Kelli Elliott, of Central; Autumn Munoz, of Denham Springs; and Kailey Gerage, of Pride, kept people guessing about how the tanning process worked.
The Antique Village Festivals are sponsored primarily by the Antique Merchants’ Association and the Pelican State Credit Union.
“It takes a lot of work on the part of the antique merchants, the booth vendors and our sponsors to put on the festival,” Bye said. “We start at 6 a.m. and by 6 p.m. the road has to be completely cleared. However, we keep doing this because it is very good for our businesses, the vendors who work so hard on their products and the city of Denham Springs. As long as the people keep coming back, and they always do, we will keep up this tradition. These festivals are part of our city and we will keep working to make them always a little bit better.”