Hillenmeyer shop attracts new fans for old-fashioned Christmas

Joseph Hillenmeyer said moving his Christmas shop out of a parking lot and into a barn has been good for business.
Joseph Hillenmeyer said moving his Christmas shop out of a parking lot and into a barn has been good for business. Lexington Herald-Leader

Bluesy Christmas music hums through air full of the sweet smell of freshly cut evergreens.

The wicked winter wind is cut by a pop-up barn made of old wood, a fire crackles not far from Santa's antique sleigh, and there are, of course, marshmallows for roasting.

This picturesque atmosphere is at The Hillenmeyer Christmas Shop at Lansdowne Shoppes, and it's so inviting that people who come to shop tend to linger.

"I figure if I could just sell cocktails I would only have to work two months out of the year," joked owner Joseph Hillenmeyer.

The Hillenmeyer Christmas Shop at Lansdowne Shoppes has been a Lexington staple for decades, but owners Joseph and his wife, Shannon, who in recent years bought the business from his parents, have people flocking to a new holiday tradition rooted firmly in the past.

People are coming not to buy just trees, but to visit the living Nativity, have some hot cider and visit Santa. The original signs from when the Hillenmeyer family operated a nursery on Sandersville Road hang over the Nativity. A red sleigh with black velvet cushions serves as Santa's photo op. It belonged to Francis Xavier Hillenmeyer, who established the family business in Lexington in 1841. Joseph Hillenmeyer likes to say his great-great-grandfather rode it through the snow on Sandersville Road.

As of Monday, the live animals and Santa had gone home for the season, but there are still live trees for sale.

All of the attention to details has not gone unnoticed by Central Kentucky families. The Hillenmeyer Christmas Shop Facebook page has more than 1,100 likes, and the number is increasing about 30 percent a week.

In fact, Joseph Hillenmeyer said, nearly all of his advertising has been via social media. And it seems to be working.

Last year, throughout the two-month Christmas season the shop sold about 1,700 trees, he said. He's on track to sell 2,100 this year. In one crazy busy weekend, he said, he sold about 400. Offering the ambience of a tree farm without the hike through the hills or long drive to the country seems to be working.

"The main thing we've done is take it from being a parking lot and enclosed it in barn wood to create a lot more ambience than you would get in a parking lot," said Hillenmeyer. The changes have taken place over the last three years at a cost of roughly $30,000, he said. Some of that was trade and barter through his other work as a landscape designer; some was thrifty shopping.

For example, the chandeliers hanging above the wreaths and topiaries were scooped up at the Habitat ReStore and yard sales.

They've also expanded their merchandise beyond trees and wreaths, and ramped up the made-to-order offerings. Plus there is also an extended line of topiaries, boxwood wreaths and boxwood kissing balls created by Bluff Mountain Nursery in North Carolina, which supplies the holiday greenery for The Biltmore Estate.

Joseph Hillenmeyer didn't want to spill any details of what Christmas magic might materialize next year, but he's already putting together his wish list.