Celebrating 20 years: The Historical Allure and Success of FBJSL’s Sugar Plum Market

By Tanya Sterling –

Thousands of ladies avidly shopping, talking and laughing, vendors enthusiastically selling their wares, delicious food and drinks being served, an all-volunteer team of ladies plus thousands of dollars being raised for area charities – welcome to the Fort Bend Junior Service League’s (FBJSL) 20th anniversary Sugar Plum Market (SPM)! What initially began as a shopping event at the now shuttered Fort Bend Country Club with approximately 50 vendors, a few hundred attendees and $10,000 raised has now morphed into an event with thousands of patrons, hundreds of vendors and in 2019, raised a record $345,000. In 2020, the League hosted the Sugar Plum Marketplace, a virtual version of the event which raised $150,000.

2021 Sugar Plum Market Honorary Co-Chairs Lizz Sansone, KK West and Amy West Becker.

“The growth of the Market has been amazing on so many fronts.  It began as a small event at Fort Bend Country Club with a couple dozen local vendors plus a few hundred friends and neighbors in attendance. Now, the market is a well-regarded event not only in our area but within the vendor community across the state and has an endless vendor wait list each year,” said Brigit Engleman, 2021 Sugar Plum Market Co-Chair and FBJSL Past President. “There are so many wonderful milestones that have been reached due to the dedication of so many past co-chairs and committee members.”

The market welcomes 7,000 to 8,000 patrons annually with those numbers expected to grow with the addition of a third shopping day this year.  Since inception, the event has raised $3.3 million for the Fort Bend County area and has benefited numerous charitable organizations, including Texana, Fort Bend Women’s Shelter, the American Red Cross, Hope for Three, Boys and Girls Clubs and Attack Poverty.

“I love hearing stories from our beneficiaries and how the grants that come from the Sugar Plum Market have made such a lasting impact on the individuals and families they serve.  It truly makes the long hours and any stressful moments worth it,” said Engleman. “I love seeing the lines form each day of the market. The excitement and enthusiasm from our patrons is so energizing.”

As the league continues its trailblazing annual shopping tradition and in commemoration of their 20th anniversary, they have named three Honorary Chairs for the Sugar Plum Market. They are Amy West Becker, Lizz Sansone and KK West. These women were among the visionary leaders that created this charitable event through their dedication, volunteer service and creativity.

“Fort Bend County and our residents are always so supportive of our fundraising efforts,” said Lizz Sansone, FBJSL Charter Member, Past President and Former SPM Co-Chair. “The FBJSL’s Sugar Plum Market has always been a pioneer in raising monies for the area. In a sense, the league really kicked off community fundraising in this immediate area.”

“Lizz, Amy and I are delighted to be Honorary Chairs,” said KK West, FBJSL Past President and Founding SPM Co-Chair. “One of the original goals was to create a charitable fundraiser that would benefit our community, and we have all worked really hard at it while having fun. It truly takes a village to successfully make it happen.”

The Sugar Plum Market originated and came into fruition when ladies from the FBJSL strived to raise funds for area charities. They wanted to create a fun holiday shopping extravaganza in Fort Bend, and  Houston’s Nutcracker Market was a template for their vision. Their initial vision was to host vendors for shopping as well as a fashion show, which also included some local talent.

Twenty years of Sugar Plum Market Co-Chairs. Front: Cherie Lyne Bouterie, Emily Calbert, Monica Henderson, Susanne Hiegel, Stephanie Van Horn, Heather Allen, Leah Henley, Heather Brown, Tracy Crow, Lisa Moore, Cindy Reaves and Brigit Engleman. Back: Theresa Shmerling, Sherri Ebarb, Rebekah Poston, Shelia Cooper, Haley Millis, Lizz Sansone, Amy West Becker, Jenny Nelson, Catherine Kubala, Jana Baumann, KK West, Amy Johnson, Sarah Kuehl, Chelsi Oestreich, Jenna Kisner, Parita Kurian and Kimberly Camp.

“We noticed a need for something similar to the Nutcracker on the west side of Houston,” said Sansone. “Monica Townley was an original co-chair who was highly instrumental in the vendor piece of the market.  Amy worked on the fashion show, and KK was focused on all of the logistics. I was on the board and networked and helped out wherever needed.” Townley passed away in 2015.

The ladies were also strategic when it came to marketing and planning the event in those early days.

“Great success begins with small steps but a big vision.  We were so highly motivated and excited and knew the first year was pivotal for future success,” said Amy West-Becker, Founding SPM Co-Chair. “Our families jumped in to help when we held the market at Fort Bend Country Club.  We outgrew that venue the first year and moved to Safari Texas the second year.  In those early years, some of our husbands ran the valet service, while others helped with hanging lighting and décor. I remember when the Fire Marshall was walking the floor to ensure we were up to code prior to our opening, and we looked outside and saw a long line of patrons circling the building. We had to ask him to accelerate his inspection.  We believed that if we built it, they would come!

“Back then, we initially hosted a fashion show along with the shopping portion of the market. We drew patrons to the event by having community leaders, such as the mayor, medical professionals and philanthropists model while showcasing local boutiques,” reminisced West-Becker. “Inevitably, the model’s families, business partners and friends purchased tickets and attended the event. We also included a talent show for the kids, and of course, their parents and friends would subsequently patronize the market!”

Of course, during those early years, all the marketing for the event was pre-social media.

“I remember posting a lot of flyers everywhere! We all fanned out and put up yard signs and event signs on street corners and major intersections. People came and supported us in droves back then and now. We are so appreciative.” said Sansone.

In 2010, in order to increase their charitable giving, the league expanded the vendor lineup and added Preview Night in lieu of the fashion show.  As the kickoff to the Market, Preview Night offers patrons an opportunity to shop in a more intimate crowd as tickets are limited and the evening sells out each year.

The FBJSL selects the event beneficiaries through an application and interview process overseen by a separate volunteer committee within the League.  The ladies on the Beneficiary Review Committee work diligently in the months prior to the Market to review applications and meet with applicants to discuss their requests.  When the Market proceeds are finalized, final grant recommendations are made to the membership at-large who approve them. The majority of the grants are issued in December of each year.

Planning for the next Market begins almost immediately following the conclusion of the current Market and is planned by a committee of about 45 FBJSL members with four to six co-chairs leading the way.  It takes about 200 volunteers from FBJSL to execute the event itself.  This also includes members of their Teen League, a mentoring project of FBJSL.

“I hope the Market continues to delight and entertain the community in the next 20 years! I wish future co-chairs continued success and feel confident they will continue finding creative ways to host this event while maximizing the amount donated back to the community,” said Engleman.

This year, the League has announced plans to expand the Market by an additional day to provide patrons more opportunities to access the 100+ vendors from around the state and beyond.  The event is returning to the Stafford Centre November 4th-6th, with a special Preview Night event taking place on November 3rd.  The 20th Anniversary of the Sugar Plum Market is presented by Memorial Hermann Sugar Land and the Fort Bend Junior Service League.  To purchase tickets to the Market, visit www.sugarplummarket.com.