NCtrend: Christmas in July

 In 2014-12

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In 2005, Edward Greene was ready to leave Manteo, where his 38-year-old Christmas Shop and Island Art Gallery was a favorite stop for Outer Banks locals and tourists. Then 80 years old, he closed the store and auctioned the merchandise and fixtures. But a sagging market made it a poor time to sell real estate, and Greene and his partner, Jimmy Lacerre, missed the retail life. They reopened the store in 2008. Annual sales of $1 million are well below peak levels a decade ago, but Greene, 89, says spreading Christmas cheer remains fun. Alex Granados’ interview with him is edited for brevity and clarity.

How did you wind up in Manteo?
I was a dancer and I toured with various productions, including Damn Yankees. I came down in 1953 to be in The Lost Colony [an outdoor drama staged in Dare County since 1937], the same time that Andy Griffith was in it. I decided when I got old enough to leave show business, I’d come down here and start a business.

Why a Christmas store?
In the early ’60s, there was a guy looking for people with creative flair to decorate artificial Christmas trees. That was a job that I did for a couple of years. So I learned that the field was growing. And my family had an art gallery and did picture framing. So that was the other half of the business. When we started, there weren’t many of them. Most people would say, “Christmas shopping in the summer time? Why would they do that?” So a lot of people came out of curiosity. Andy Griffith went around town telling everybody he thought I was crazy. But he was a good customer.

What has been key to your store’s longevity?
Our displays are designed to make people want what we’re showing them. A lot of people will say, “Love it, most interesting store I’ve ever been in.” Sometimes people will say, “I can’t believe the attention that is paid to details.”  And it’s all decorated in antique furniture. People are very nostalgic about Christmas and tradition, and everybody feels very comfortable. A lot of the local people say, “Every time I get depressed I just take time out and go walk in the Christmas Shop.” I treat the business like show business. When you’re touring in a Broadway show, the stage manager goes by and yells “Half-hour, please.” At 9, the employees come in, and they clean. At 9:30, we open the doors, the music is playing, the store smells good because we have candles and potpourri and scented soaps. So it’s an experience for people. And nobody hounds them to buy anything.

When do most people buy Christmas gear?
We’ll be very busy during the month of December, but nothing like what you might see in July, August and September. Those are our biggest months.

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