TUPELO – Christmas has to start sometime. For Bettie Fellows, it starts in January.
Over the past three decades, it’s become a tradition for Fellows to travel to a market in Atlanta, where she hunts for holiday items that will fill Mid-South Nursery some nine months later.
The ornaments, lights, figurines, wreaths and toys start to arrive in summer, and they’re stored until Labor Day.
Then the Christmas that started in January begins to take over every available inch of the Tupelo nursery, which Fellows owns with her husband, Byron Fellows, and brother, Bob Marion.
“We have a crew that helps us do this,” the 58-year-old said. “It’s a true team effort.”
What does she mean by “this?”
It’s more than Frasier fir Christmas trees out front and poinsettias in back of the store. Inside, you’ll find German nutcrackers, Russian Santas and Mississippi crosses. Elves dangle from the ceiling, while tiny Fred Flintstone and Elmo the Monster ornaments hang in a row.
We’re talking red and green, platinum and gold, and purple and orange. We’re talking new-fangled LED lights, alongside old-fashioned bulbs. We’re talking Chinese-themed ornaments, new baby-themed ornaments and first wedding-themed ornaments.
Folks, we’re talking about an avalanche of Christmas, with a little bit of Thanksgiving thrown in for good measure.
“Some of our customers decorate for Thanksgiving because that’s the only time their kids can come home,” Fellows said. “We have things in orange and brown. The Spanish moss looks real, doesn’t it?”
Traditionally, the nursery business doesn’t fare well in the winter months.
“I remember Daddy going to the bank for a loan to make it until spring,” she said of her father, Witt Marion.
He opened a nursery in east Tupelo in the 1950s, and he wasn’t shy about putting his kids to work.
“Daddy always made me work in the nursery,” Fellows said. “Back when I was 15, I didn’t want anything to do with digging in the dirt.”
She went to school in Houston, Texas, where she met and married Byron Fellows. When the newlyweds moved back to Tupelo in the 1970s, they had a plan.
“There was a nursery in Houston that had a Christmas shop,” Fellows said. “That’s how we got the idea.”
She invested about $5,000 in Christmas supplies that first year.
“I didn’t tell Daddy how much I spent, or he would’ve killed me,” she said. “He didn’t like the idea at all.”
Customers were slow to respond for the first few years. That began to change when Mid-South broke with its nursery roots and began to sell artificial trees. That allowed for open houses in early November, instead of waiting until the fresh trees arrived at Thanksgiving.
“Once we started having open houses, Daddy was like, ‘Honey, this is wonderful. Honey, this is wonderful.’”
Now, the Christmas shop is a critical part of Mid-South’s business.
“It’s a necessity for us during the winter time. Otherwise, it would be a very slow time,” she said. “It keeps our cash flow going, which really helped us this year.”
And the store has become something of a destination stop for the holidays.
“The most exciting part is to see the reaction of the children. It’s great to see them come in and say, ‘Ahhhh,’” Fellows said. “The adults do it, too. Most folks come more than once. The first time they’re overwhelmed. They come back and look again.”
Fellows and the rest of the Mid-South team busily tend their wonderland until about a week before Christmas, when most people have finished their decorating.
After the big day, there’s a half-price sale, then the lights, ornaments and figurines go into storage.
“We’re physically exhausted by then,” she said. “We’re glad to have some downtime for a couple of months. Things pick up again in March and April.”
It’s usually slow in January, except for that trip to Atlanta, where Christmas starts all over again.
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Isn’t it always the way?
Bettie Fellows is immersed in Christmas cheer at Mid-South Nursery, but home is a different story.
“We’re open seven days a week,” she said. “I get home a lot of nights at midnight. I’m very tired.”
She’s accumulated plenty of decorations, but they don’t always make it out of storage.
“But I love a beautiful tree. That’s something I always have,” she said. “I can decorate a tree and sit and relax and enjoy it.”
M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal