It’s Christmas every day at Piedmont Floral Galleries. Outside, the big trucks whiz by on Interstate 85 on their perpetual journey to someplace else. Inside, snowy owls looking real enough to fly peer out from 12-foot trees. Peacocks dominate on another tree. Red and green ribbon swirl around a traditional tree. There is enough ribbon here to wrap up the entirety of Rowan County, if not more.
Melonie and Brad Beaver own this 40,000-square-foot fairyland of high-end artificial trees and florals, introducing a business plan that moved into retail from wholesale. They converted the family wholesale garden and florist supply business, in operation in Salisbury for more than 50 years, into a retail store that specializes in floral design.
Although they have spring and fall lines, “Christmas is always on our minds,” says Brad.
“Watch out for the glitter,” adds Melonie, walking through a trail of sparkles on the floor. “If you see glitter, you know you have been here.”
Melonie, a fiber arts major at the University of Oregon who came back to Salisbury and found her place at her father’s floral supply business, decorates some 40 trees and a dozen mantels each fall for open houses.
“Visual stimulates,” she says. “It’s a selling point.” She coordinates trees with wreaths and helps customers with customized plans for how their Christmas trees and other decorations, or their wedding or party venues, will look once they unload the boxes and bags and start their own installations.
Exclusive Supplier of Chrismons
The Beavers also own Rufty’s Chrismon Shop in the same building, located at 280 Furniture Drive, behind Hess Travel Plaza off Interstate 85 at Exit 71. They are the only business allowed to use the Chrismon name, Melonie says, referring to an agreement between the designer of the original Chrismons and her dad, Harold Rufty.
Each year, the shop brings around 100 visitors to Rowan County per month, during scheduled Chrismon classes from February through July. That’s at least 700 visitors per year for classwork, and some of them have traveled from afar, as in South Dakota. Melonie counts off the states: Alabama, Texas, Indiana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, and of course, North Carolina. Many of them are church groups.
This year, open house events for the Chrismons are scheduled for Saturdays, July 17, and September 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Chrismons originated with Frances Spencer of Danville, Virginia, who came to Piedmont Floral because Harold Rufty carried a large supply of the beads needed for Chrismons. “The big companies were not interested in supplying the beads that she needed,” says Melonie. “My father went to New York and found beads for her, and she gave us the exclusive right to use the word Chrismons.”
Mrs. Spencer, in hand crafting Christmas decorations for her church, studied the monograms of Christ in the New Testament and named her biblically inspired decorations Chrismons, from the Latin word “chrisma.” She obtained copyrights and published four instruction books in the 1960s so that the ministry could be shared.
In 2004, Melonie put her love of art to work again and began designing beaded Christian symbols to broaden the market under the name Rufty’s Christian Symbols.
All are woven beads and they represent both the Old and New Testament. She offers 40-plus copyrighted instructional craft booklets, including six life-sized crowns and dozens of single patterns. “We do step-by-step instruction books,” says Melonie. “I am a weaver and I love the weaving of the beads. It is near to my heart.”
Classes Attract Hundreds
They have shipped Chrismons and Christian Symbol Kits to every state except Hawaii and welcome buses of people eager to turn the gold, pearl and crystal beads into symbols of their faith. Eighty percent of the business is mail order, although many travel to Rowan County for the classes. “These Christian symbols don’t have to be just for Christmas. We have a church in South Carolina that changes out colors of ribbons on its wreaths to represent the Christian year. I like to see the crosses used at Easter,” says Melonie. “There is a lot of love and time put into these for them to be stored in a box all year.”
The symbols are often given for gifts, such as the wedding cross or the guardian angel for a hospital patient.
The classes that introduce new designs combine creativity with religion, Melonie says. “The whole idea is Bible study,” she adds, and these are all handmade. Women who make the symbols write her notes. “I get so much reinforcement back,” she says.
The Beavers take great pride in the Chrismon trees at their home church, St. John’s Lutheran in downtown Salisbury. A children’s Chrismon tree at the church, the first in the state, is a tribute to her dad, Melonie says.
Her mother, Barbara, still working part time at 89, continues to help with classes and make Chrismons, and the Beavers’ son, Addison, does the graphics and diagrams for Melonie’s instruction books.
The late Harold Rufty started the floral supply business on South Main Street in Salisbury in the 1960s, an offshoot of the family’s O.O. Rufty’s General Store, once a landmark in Salisbury.
“I love it like my dad did,” Melonie says of the two businesses that moved near the interstate in 1990 in a land swap with the county when the county needed to expand the sheriff’s office and jail. “Running two businesses has taught me to multi-task.”
Trendy or Traditional Christmas Décor?
The showroom where the 40 Christmas trees are decked out is her domain for much of the fall. Her days are long, readying everything for Christmas.
“We sell a high-end product,” says Brad of the pre-lit trees, wreaths and garlands. “These are natural looking products.”
“I am blessed with a color sense,” says Melonie, who did her own dyeing for her weavings.
Trade shows help them stay a step ahead of holiday trends. She tries to educate people on how to use the decorations, fabrics and ribbons, and how to mix what they have with newer looks, Melonie says. She holds events to teach bow tying and tree decorating.
The natural look continues to be popular, says Melonie, although the glitzy Christmas look has not lost its sparkle. “The traditional always outranks any other,” she says.
She decorates both Williamsburg trees and Carolina trees (dogwood and cardinals) and likes to use a lot of florals and stems, especially as tree toppers, instead of traditional stars and angels. Other trees are covered with magnolia, poinsettia, or fruit. Animal trees, especially zebras, are popular. She uses a lot of ribbon, from red and gold to the lime green and red that speaks to the younger market. White and silver creates an elegant look on another tree. “We have thousands of rolls of ribbon,” she says.
She has seen a return of what she calls “the old-fashioned Christmas.” This might mean Santa or elves as a focal point, or one large sized snowman on a tree to draw the eye. Trees covered with candies are popular with children, some of whom have their own trees in their rooms.
Hand-blown glass has been a popular look on trees, and some people prefer lots of color – fuchsia, turquoise, and purples. “But nothing outsells red and green,” she says.
The showroom is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Arts and crafts stimulate creativity and motor skills for young minds. But most schools are leaving art behind and moving towards math, science and common core approach. There are a lot of summer programs, businesses, and activities that are focused on exposing the children of Rowan County to art.
“Early Christians used symbols of the early church to transmit the faith and beliefs of the artist/teacher to the viewer. Thus, the inspiration was shared and passed on.”
— Frances Kipps Spencer, the originator of Chrismons