Ring in the season early

Published 10:30 am Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sisters Madeline Kimball and Kathy Park love to spread holiday cheer, selling Christmas ornaments and decorations year-round. (Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT)

Sisters Madeline Kimball and Kathy Park love to spread holiday cheer, selling Christmas ornaments and decorations year-round. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

BENTON HARBOR — It’s been just over 6 months since Christmas came and went, and even if you haven’t started to miss all of the snow, you might be in need of a shot of Christmas cheer.

If that’s the case, you don’t have to go too far to enjoy a little “Christmas in July,” and The Christmas Tree, located at 2675 Mizpah Park Rd., is just the place to do that.

Sisters Kathleen Park and Madeline Kimball have been serving up Christmas in July, and August, and in pretty much every other month for the past 25 years at The Christmas Tree.

Despite the many years of success that the store has enjoyed, one might wonder how the two sisters and their mother, also named Madeline, found the nerve to open a Christmas-themed store all those years ago, but as Kimball explained, that was not what they set out to do back in 1989.

“The goose was the first thing,” Kimball recalled. “Both Mom and I are sewers, and Mom is a designer, so we said one day, ‘We need to be doing something.’ I had been volunteering for the Krasl at that time and I said, ‘The Holly Market is coming up, and maybe we could make something that we could sell there.’”

After discussing possible projects over coffee and cookies, the ladies hit upon the idea of creating elegant, stuffed geese that they would sell as fundraisers.

“We had a good time planning for that. So, that’s where we started,” Kimball said. “Mom made scarves for the geese out of really good material. They were so nice that you could take them off and wear them if you wanted to. We sold a lot of them. We got so tired of stuffing their necks!”

From the Christmas goose project, the trio moved into a business focused on helping other businesses prepare for the holidays.

“We really were focused at the beginning on doing the Christmas decorating for big corporate Christmas parties. We did the centerpieces for the tables, we did the wreaths, we purchased and gift-wrapped all of the employees’ Christmas presents,” Kimball said.

That led into assisting with home Christmas parties, and soon the ladies found that they had so many samples, they needed a place to put them all.

“We set up a nice sample room of about 800 square feet, and that’s really when it started to be a retail store,” Kimball said. “We had customers peeking in the windows and asking questions as soon as we put out the sign. That was when we realized we needed to go to market to get things that people would want to buy. That’s just part of the story.”

While the emphasis has always been on Christmas, The Christmas Tree is, in fact, really three shops under one roof—a gift shop, a gourmet shop and of course, the Christmas shop.

“This destination store has unusual things and things for every occasion,” Kimball said. “We have everything from new baby gifts—things that are a lot of times keepsakes, to children’s things, gifts for weddings, birthdays and home accent things, too. Our gift basket business is busy all the time, too.”

The Christmas Tree also carries a selection of Michigan-made artwork, hand-crafted products and gourmet foods.

“When you go to market, almost everything is made in China,” Park noted.

“We try to sell locally-made products,” Kimball added. “We also try to pull artists in here when we come across their work and we like it. I think that makes our store special.”

Some of those Michigan artists include Carl Sams II and Jean Stoick, the duo that has produced a variety of nature-themed photography books, including the best-selling “Stranger in the Woods.”

“Another of our Michigan artists is Peggy Reimel Abrams. We’re hoping to have her come for a signing soon,” Kimball said. “She’s known for her wind-swept Santas.”

“We’ve known her for quite some time,” Park added. “She’s in Swartz Creek, Michigan.”

Visitors to the shop may also have the pleasure of hearing Christmas music produced by local musician, Brian Siewert. His CD, “Christmas is Love” can also be purchased at the shop.

Other Michigan products can be found in the shop’s gourmet pantry, from which customers can choose individual items or combine them into custom-made gift baskets.

“We have all different kinds of gourmet foods,” Park noted. “We carry French truffles, and lots of different dips. We have a lot of Michigan things in here, too, like Kalamazoo Kettle Corn. Their caramel corn is so wonderful!”

While the amazing variety of products tucked into the shop is reason enough to visit The Christmas Tree, it is the people you will meet there that makes it really special.

“We have several gals, all long-time employees who have become like a family,” Kimball said. “Helping customers find exactly the right gift, no matter what the occasion, is something we all love about our work.”