GTPulse: Traverse City’s Country Christmas Opens For 36th Season

The drive to Cedar is one of my favorites. East Traverse Highway feels comfortably wider than other roads around these parts and the tall trees make for a gorgeous fall site. When I first drove to Empire back in June a storefront caught my eye. A small cranberry red shop trimmed with forest green flashed by my passenger window. Did I see Christmas trees back there? I made a mental note to return to the store on my way home, only to find a note taped to the door saying that they would be closed until fall. “They” are Lee Ann and Bill Smith and they’ve recently reopened Country Christmas for another magical holiday season.

Lee Ann and Bill are going into their 36th season owning Country Christmas. The couple met while both attending Central Michigan University, both were studying to become teachers. Bill continued studies to get a masters in social work at Michigan State University and the two moved to Traverse City when he graduated, where the  couple settled. Although Lee Ann never got to teach elementary students, she used to teach craft classes at the store.

“We made santas, wreaths, ornaments. We had a big table, that’s why we have so much ribbon and crafting stuff and paint,” Lee Ann said as she touched a few of the handmade ornaments hanging on a board in the back room of Country Christmas.

We sat at a work desk on high chairs surrounded by shelves full of boxes and crafting supplies. Although she doesn’t teach crafting anymore she and the ladies from her staff still make and sell Christmas tree ornaments that range from pine cone snowmen to sparkly stockings and tinsel trimmed santas. Ornaments aren’t the only items made by the Country Christmas ladies. The team consists of Lee Ann, Bill, Karen Kukan, Shelley Phelps and Carol Repic.

“We’ve had to cut back and depend on our help more.”

In addition to the ornaments, the ladies also make signature shopping bags. The brown paper bags are each painted with a snowman, a yearly tradition that staff and customers both look forward to.

“We also do a little stocking, Carol does a good job with that. They’re like gift tags and we sell them at the counter,” Stacey said.

Country Christmas has attracted a loyal following of regulars and curious newcomers. It’s easy to see why. When you walk into the shop you’re greeted by a friendly face and a gust of fragrant and warm air from the wood burning stove in the center of the shop. Like the title says it’s a Christmas store and cozily set up with Christmas decorations, ornaments, novelties and more from across the globe, including hand blown glass ornaments from Germany. There are also a few different sized trees for sale as well as customizable gifts.

“We go to all sorts of shows. Gift shows, sometimes shows that are just for Christmas. We have a few ladies make some things for us.”

Why a Christmas store? Lee Ann was inspired by a local shop she used to visit that is no longer open.

“In the back of my mind there was a lady who had a Christmas store. She lived on Silver Lake I think. I used to visit her every once and awhile, and I just thought that it was so nice.”

Lee Ann said that her favorite part of running Country Christmas is the people that come in and the ladies that she works with.

“The store has meant so much to us.”

The store is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday right now but will have weekly hours starting in November. Make Country Christmas a part of your holiday cheer this year.


Categories: GTPulse