Lexington never ceases to amaze me with the creativity and inspiration it introduces me to week after week. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Joseph and Shannon Hillenmeyer at their Christmas Shop. As I’m not sure where to begin with my rave about these people and this place, I’ll just tell the story of how I experienced it all for the first time.
Last weekend, I ran out the door on a cold and rainy morning with a long list of to-do’s. I had to make 2 stops downtown, then a photoshoot, then some editing, more errands and packing for a 3-day trip to Nashville. I was scatterbrained and stressed, to say the least. After completing my second task, I was in total bulldozer mode — Jersey-road-raging, weaving all over the place trying to get to my next destination while cursing the cruddy weather. By the time I rolled into the parking lot of Fresh Market, let’s just say I wasn’t the most pleasant individual. The lot was full and my objective was to find parking near the Christmas Shop on the far corner of the property. I spotted a row of evergreens and inched my way closer. Once parked, I grabbed my camera bag and dodged icy raindrops as I made a beeline for the entrance. That’s when it happened…
It might have been the cheery greeting from Joseph, or the fragrant trees being hauled out to people’s cars by smiling workers — or maybe it was the fact that I no longer felt like I was standing in a grocery store parking lot, but inside the most captivating physical manifestation of everything magical and nostalgic about Christmas I’d ever experienced. I melted. From the carols being sung by the brick fireplace with hot apple cider and marshmallows for roasting, to the live nativity scene and gorgeous centerpieces being crafted on a wooden work table, it was purely, simply Christmas.
I couldn’t believe a place like this existed. There were rows of stunning wreaths lining the walls, lush garland draped over the tables and so many lovely things that basically had me convinced I’d never actually decorated for Christmas before — or at least I’d never decorated right. The place was beautiful. What struck me most was how real everything was. It was like walking through a natural art gallery…the result of some intensely successful foraging excursion. I wandered up and down the lanes, taking it all in and going a little camera-crazy.
I couldn’t wait to find out more. I spoke with Joseph about how he and Shannon came to own and operate the shop and what inspired them to craft such a beautiful experience. Here’s what he shared:
What started it all?
The family business started in Lexington in 1841, but I can trace our family in horticulture back 9 generations to ancestors in France that worked at the nursery that supplied many of the materials for Versailles. As most family businesses have, ours has split several times over the years, including me starting my own garden design firm 11 years ago. Shannon and I purchased the Christmas Shop from my parents four years ago.
What inspired the design/layout of the shop?
Our biggest inspiration is looking to the past and referencing a time when Christmas was less about consumerism and more about family — a special time during the winter when we would all come together and celebrate. That seems to be lost in today’s culture; this guides us to create an experience more about the families and kids, and to build a tradition that they can return to every year. We also want to distract our customers from thinking about the fact that they’re actually in a parking lot on a busy road.
What are your favorite things about the Christmas Shop?
Watching the kids is my favorite part. Seeing them interact with the animals, climb into my great-great grandfather’s sleigh to have their picture taken, or standing by the fire roasting marshmallows. These are things they remember all year. I’ve had so many people that I don’t know come up to me in the middle of summer and thank me for the tradition and memories we provide for them. That makes it all worth the hectic and busy season. We give each kid a small evergreen seedling when they leave, which gives them a way to carry the experience home with them and watch the seeds grow throughout the year.
What’s it like running a seasonal shop like this in Lexington? What sets your business apart from others?
I love the seasonality of the business. It’s a super intense six weeks at a pace that would be very difficult to maintain all year, especially with my ongoing design business. Aside from the experience we provide, the materials that we offer set us apart from everyone else. No one that I know of in the state of Kentucky offers the variety of cut branches and greens that we do. I’ve obtained exclusivity for many of my high end products and people know we are the only carriers of these products, which draws them in to find more unique offerings each year.
What’s on the horizon? Any exciting plans for 2014?
Hopefully the future will allow continued growth, not just at our physical location, but with opportunities for pop-up shops for our wreaths and greens. We’re also exploring opportunities for an online marketplace. Regardless of these options, we’re continually refining our product offerings and trying not to follow, but to create trends with what we have available.
If you’re anywhere near Lexington, Kentucky, you have to stop in and see this place for yourself. It’s located in front of Fresh Market in the Lansdowne Shops on Tates Creek Road. Follow Joseph Hillenmeyer Garden Design on Facebook and visit the official website here!