The familiar refrain "Shop 'til you drop" was surely coined with the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market in mind. The turnstiles began whirling Wednesday night when 3,600 fervent shoppers poured into Reliant Center for first dibs on the acres of enticing merchandise. Some were so enthusiastic that they held afternoon tailgate parties to insure a place at the head of the line.
It was the preview party in advance of the official ribbon cutting Thursday morning. Former First Lady Barbara Bush was set to ceremoniously open the market on its 30th anniversary, just as she cut the ribbon at the original market that began on a small scale three decades ago at a local church. That first year, the market earned $28,000. Expected revenues for Houston Ballet this year are $2.5 million. Proceeds go to the Houston Ballet Foundation, its academy and scholarship programs.
More than 300 merchants are plying their fanciful wares through Sunday and with the record turnout for Wednesday's cocktail buffet/shopping fest, expectations are that all records will be broken again this year. "I'm gonna declare that the recession is over in Houston," said market chair S. Shawn Stephens, a partner with Baker Hostetler law firm.
Just to give you an idea of how important this market is to serious shoppers, consider that Lisa Gagneaux walked through the gates with four shopping bags in hand. Her partner-in-retail crime, Sherry Honore, had three bags ready for filling. Lakewood Church pastor Victoria Osteen and her shopping pal, Jackie Garner, made their traditional reconnaissance through the vast aisles. Julie Sulik and a pal from College Station drove in just for the preview party and were overnighting with friends before heading back.
Among the most popular booths to return is the Donne Di Domani, a group of women of Italian heritage who have been making their signature marinara sauce for the market since 1985. Since that time, they have donated more than $1 million to charities, all from selling their tasty pasta sauce. The stuff is so popular that is flies out of Reliant Center by the case and typically sells out before the market's end.
Paul Michael has returned with his enormous selection of holiday decorations — enough wreaths, garlands and wintry froufrou to decorate all of River Oaks. Last year, that operation alone sold $1 million in merchandise.
Leaders in the four-day effort include preview party chairs Lara Bell, Roseann Rogers and Kristi Schiller; Saks Fifth Avenue fashion show and luncheon chairs Leticia Loya and Randa Duncan Williams; and Macy's fashion show and brunch chairs Philamena Baird and Hattie Parker-Ball. Relishing the scene Wednesday night was ballet managing director C.C. Conner.