Take a Shopping Staycation to St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler
Visitors often marvel at how such a little town as St. Francisville can offer such diversity. Want something to eat? There’s Chinese, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Southern, you name it, all of it good. Want to spend the night? There are Bed & Breakfasts, modern motels, golf resorts, historic, contemporary, in town, in the country, on a lake. Want recreation? Hiking the hills, biking the rural lanes, birding in the wooded areas or even in the middle of tree-shaded downtown, kayaking in Bayou Sara.
And shopping? An enticing variety of little shops with unique wares offer something for everyone, from upscale jewelry sold around the world to one-of-a-kind items provided with warm personal service. This sure isn’t Wal-Mart, Toto, although there are a couple of Dollar Stores and a well-stocked Fred’s.
In the 19th century, St. Francisville atop the bluffs was the center of culture while Bayou Sara, perched on the banks of the Mississippi River below the bluffs, was the center of commerce, with steamboats unloading treasures from around the world. But after years of overflow flooding, most of that port city was washed away, though some structures and businesses relocated up the hill into St. Francisville. Today there are still some of these same structures and businesses, but they have been joined by a whole host of others, providing a new fresh outlook and plenty of up-to-date shopping opportunities.
Grandmothers Buttons, in the turn-of-the-century red brick bank building, has beautifully designed jewelry utilizing vintage buttons and imported glass or crystal in an affordable price range, as well as an eclectic selection of many other items; there’s also a fascinating museum of antique buttons in the former bank vault. Patrick’s Fine Jewelry (Live Oak Centre) has classic custom pieces as well as estate jewels.
Two art studio/galleries showcase the works of local artists and host periodic shows: Harrington Gallery and Backwoods Gallery, with originals, prints and framing. Temple Design has totebags, tshirts, hats, beach towels and lots of other pieces with local insignia.
There are several antiques co-ops with multiple dealers exhibiting vintage collectibles as well as fine antiques: Bohemianville Antiques, St. Francis Art and Antiques, and the new St. Francisville Antique Mall.
Gift shops include The Shanty Too, longtime downtown anchor store with linen clothing, baby presents and an old-time candy shoppe; Hillcrest Gardens and Interiors with something for every age and every taste; Sage Hill Gifts with a wonderful selection of carefully chosen decorative items.
Elliot’s Pharmacy (Live Oak Centre) also has a large gift section, and next door is Mia Sophia Florist, which augments beautiful fresh flowers and plants with children’s clothing and the world’s best fudge. Ins-N-Outs Nursery has hanging and bedding plants for flowerbeds and vegetable gardens, while Border Imports on US Highway 61 North has a huge variety of Mexican import pottery and cast aluminum pieces for indoors and out, ranging from small colorful Talavera pieces to lifesize animal reproductions, garden statuary and seating.
Ladies’ clothing shops offering the latest fashions and stylish accessories include Ma Mille which often has special markdowns, Femme Fatale Boutique, Beehive Boutique, and Trends. Sharing space with Beehive is Mud-Pie Soaps.
The Conundrum Books and Puzzles is a quirkly little indie bookstore with a well-curated collection of reading material and puzzles for children and adults, and the West Feliciana Historical Society also has a nice gift shop with lots of regional books as well as cards and children’s things. Heirloom Quilt Shoppe has patterns and select fabrics for sewing projects and offers periodic instruction as well.
And then there are the little pop-up periodic shopping opportunities. On Thursdays and Fridays the Farmers’ Market has not only fresh produce but also designer Anna Maceda’s beautiful Bon Savon Soaps, plus honey and jellies and baked goods. On days when the American Queen steamboat docks at St. Francisville so its passengers can tour the downtown area and patronize the shops, a boutique of arts and crafts (great jewelry and other items) sets up in historic Audubon Market Hall. Rosedown, Oakley and The Myrtles Plantations in the surrounding area also have well-stocked gift shops.
Most of these shops are in St. Francisville’s National Register-listed Historic District downtown within easy walking distance of each other, except for the ones in Live Oak Centre, on US Hwy 61 North, or at the outlying plantations. So stroll the brick streets beneath the overhanging live oaks and colorful crepe myrtles, and this shopping staycation can make visitors who’ve driven short distances feel a million miles away, transported back to a time when shopping trips were eagerly anticipated and lavishly rewarding.
A fun special event called Polos and Pearls extends shopping hours into the cool of the evening on Saturday, August 19, with trolley transportation throughout the downtown area as shops host open houses with refreshments and live music. Participating shops are open until 9 p.m. and visitors should not miss a single one.
And if auctions are your thing, be sure to attend the Wags and Whiskers Gala at Hemingbough on Saturday, July 29, beginning at 6 p.m. This fundraiser for the West Feliciana Animal Shelter promises food, fun, kissing costumed dogs wishing for a home, dancing to the music of the popular Delta Drifters, and a silent auction with tons of great things to bid on. The shelter does a magnificent job and deserves everyone’s support. Tickets may be purchased at the Bank of St. Francisville or online at Brown Paper Tickets.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs. The main house at Oakley is temporarily closed for lead abatement, but the visitor center and grounds remain accessible and planned programs continue.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).