Sprucing Up the Firs
Local Family Tree Lot a Popular Stop for Wreath Shoppers
Inside the dimly lit, fresh pine-scented workshop at the Creekside Farm Market barn in Manheim, Pam Heller and two of her adult children are busy sprucing up the firs—Fraser firs, that is—for the popular hand-made holiday wreaths and sprays she sells through her business, Shady Creek Wreaths.
All Heller hands are on deck today tying bows, hot gluing ornaments to wreaths, and trimming greens so that locals can deck the halls this holiday season. Soup is warming atop the wood stove, and smoke rises to the roof as an employee stokes the fire. Son Josh is out hunting, but will return to the business located along Route 772 the following day.
The business that Pam began in a garage some sixteen years ago has grown to become a successful family venture for the Hellers, drawing other families from across Central Pennsylvania to shop for trees and home decorations in Heller country. Some customers come year after year, like Sue Swope of Mt. Joy.
Swope discovered the Heller’s stand on the heels of an unsuccessful trip to a local tree farm, where after several hours of tromping through trees, she was unsatisfied with the health of the offerings. On the way home, she and her husband stopped at Creekside, and were pleasantly surprised.
“There were four to five fresh, beautiful, healthy, trees,” Swope said. “I was so excited.” This year she returned with her husband, daughter, and son-in-law, but there was only one problem: she and her daughter both selected the same tree. Mom deferred to daughter, picked another tree, and both went home happy with wreaths in hand.
“You feel good about helping a small business,” said Swope, adding that she felt the prices were “extremely fair” compared to other local vendors. “It’s nice to be able to come here for our Christmas tradition.” Haller loves the idea of families are forming a tradition around shopping at her stand, while daughter Erin enjoys seeing the return of familiar faces.
“It’s fun to see people every year, and remember their orders,” says Erin as she spreads bow ribbons for a wreath. Her sister, Thera, was cutting greens to size and assisting customers with their selections.
Pam Heller’s hands keep busy decorating wreaths as she greets a steady stream of shoppers on a sixty-degree day in December. One customer wants additions to a wreath to match her color scheme.
“They’re very accommodating,” says Peggy Randolph, after the Hellers add orange ornaments to a wreath to match a door. “These [wreaths] last a long time,” she said, noting that last year she displayed her wreath through February.
So what keeps the Heller’s Fraser firs so fresh?
“What helps the Fraser hold its needles is a hard frost,” explains Erin. “The frost makes it go dormant,” and a dormant Fraser holds its needles longer.
Which is why the Heller family makes an annual trek to New York State the last weekend in October, to the tree farm of Pam’s in-laws, Josh and Wilma Heller, where aunt Lisa Heller also resides.
“We have one day to cut down as much as we can and bring it back,” says Heller. There they cut down “overgrown and misshapen trees” from the farm, and bring them back to Creekside.
Once returned, the Hellers measure the boughs to different sizes for different wreaths, where they are clamped in place by a special device in the workshop.
“Then they are sprayed with a clear coat that keeps the moisture in,” says Erin. Once dry, the wreaths are brought into the workshop to decorate.
“And it’s all done with love,” adds Pam. “It’s a blessing we can all work together.”
The Hellers use all of the greens, from 24 inches down to 6 inches, which is used to make their most popular item: a Victorian kissing ball, a round ball of greens used instead of mistletoe.
“Last year we sold 100, this year we’re at 80 already,” says Erin, who takes a box of “stripped greens” home after work to poke into a Styrofoam ball to create each one. “It’s a long process,” she says.
Pam started her business at the urging of her in-laws, who she had helped create wreaths.
“The first year I sold a few,” recalls Pam. “The next year the business doubled, then the next year it doubled again.”
Eventually, she had to enlist the help of her children, who now run the business.
“I’m actually not the boss anymore,” says mother Pam, to the delight of daughter Erin. Son Josh lives in Lititz with his wife and two children. “Joshua farms, and Erin is a landscaper, so it works well with their schedules,” says Pam. Erin also decorates homes with the family’s Fraser fir creations, while Josh is called on to occasionally deliver a tree.
While the Hellers use the Fraser fir from the family farm for the fresh wreaths and swags, the Douglas and Fraser fir trees on the lot are from a York County tree farm.
“Christmas trees have to be pruned and shaped in the middle of summer, when it’s the hottest,” explains Erin, who has a degree in Horticulture from Delaware Valley College and runs her own landscaping business.
To five-year-old Jack Gebhart, who was content to run between the trees on the Shady Creek lot, it didn’t seem to matter where the firs came from, just as long as he and his father, Nate, were taking one home.
Together father and son selected one, then Shady Creek Wreaths employee Kelly Morris drilled a hole in the bottom of it and carried it to the Gebhart’s vehicle.
One of the most practical items sold on the lot may be the Christmas tree stand called the “marriage saver.” Erin explains that the stand features a single screw onto which the tree can be mounted to stand straight and tall, without argument, simply by twisting it into the base.
Shady Creek Wreaths and Trees is open Mon-Sat from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are located at 1436 Mount Joy Rd., Manheim, PA. You can follow them on Facebook at Creekside Farm Market or by phone at (717) 826-3378.
Lynn Rebuck writes about business and families for dr-feelgoods.com. She welcomes your comments and questions by email to editor@LititzDaily.com.