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GAINAN'S CHRISTMAS SHOWS A HOLIDAY TRADITION FOR MANY BILLINGS' FAMILIES

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Nov 1, 2009

JIM GAINAN Growing Up | Posted: Sunday, November 1, 2009 12:05 am

This time of year I always crave shrimp and scallops from the Windmill. Preparing for our annual Christmas show is the trigger. It has always been held on the first Sunday of November. It started in 1951 and continues today. My earliest memory of the event was around 1981. I was new to the Gainan family and Mick worked late every night the week prior to the "show" and I had no idea what it was or what to expect.

That snowy Sunday I remember my parents leaving before my sister and I woke that morning. It was going to be a great day. We had a babysitter who was going to take us to a movie. After the show we were going to Gainan's. I had no idea what I was in for.

We pulled into the parking lot and there were so many cars that we had to park a block away. I specifically remember that because it was very cold and the fluffy snowflakes were the size of small pancakes. As we made our way along the south side of the greenhouse I heard the Christmas music. I remember thinking, how can this be? I trick-or-treated last night! The store had two front doors.

We entered through the south door. Before I knew it, both of my cheeks were held in two hands and I got a big kiss from my Grandma "G". As the chief greeter, she welcomed us to the show as she did the thousands of other people that day.

I was taken aback by the overwhelming beautiful smell of coffee, baked treats, pine, holly berry and of course fresh flowers to name a few. Instantly, I forgot about fall and immediately began to feel the joy of Christmas. The hard work that the family and employees put in those few days prior made a lot of people feel good. They left with the notion that the holiday season had begun with smiles and cheer for everyone.

I remember seeing that customers were really dressed up. In fact, even I had traded my Sunday sweatpants for a pair of nice pants and a shirt. It was kind of like a Billings' version of New York's fashion week - although I wouldn't know that until much later. Never in my life had I seen such a concentration of fancy hats on men and women in fur coats.

We made our way through the store and marveled at the nativity sets, the garlands, and the wreaths. As we entered the greenhouse I saw trees that were the most beautiful I'd ever seen. Each bench had an "L" shaped backdrop covered in fabric. The trees were lit with so many lights and so perfectly overdone it was like magic. As we weaved through the "Trim-a-Tree" shop I remember noticing that each tree had a theme. Parents were leading their children through the trees and I remember some of them saying something like "OK, Bobby you pick out one orna-ment and we'll put in on our tree". I would later learn that many families made that a tradition that I would witness for many years.

The outdoor tree with little log cabins, rainbow trout and deer ornaments caught my eye. The "white" tree dripping with white mercury balls, crystal baubles and touches of silver was out of this world. After seeing all of them, I was officially in the Christmas spirit and I was so proud to be a part of a family that made something this awesome come to life.

Weaving my way back to the front I ran across a little table skirted with Gainan's paper (for wrapping flowers and plants) turned so that the logos didn't show with the words "Luella's Coffee Stand" kind of crudely written with a black pen that was almost out of ink.

Sitting behind the stand was a woman who would become known to me as "my little buddy". She was short and round - so we had a lot in common. I remember her being so friendly, offering me hot cider and a cookie from Buttrey's with sprinkles all over it. The sitter told me I needed to eat it in the design room because we couldn't make a mess in the store. I sat on the stairs that led to the upstairs office and polished off that cookie (and the second one she gladly snuck to me).

We walked back through a dark hallway and entered the kitchen area. I had never seen so many different colors of dishes, types of glasses, pots and pans, and aprons. When we put our coats on, I knew I had completed all of my Christmas shopping. The experience changed me because it was my first real Gainan's experience and from then on I knew exactly what people meant when I heard them say, "I love Gainan's at Christmas" or "This is our kick-off to the Holiday" because I had experienced it firsthand.

Today, 58 Christmas Shows later, we put the same amount of effort and love into every aspect of the tradition. For as long as I can remember the day was so exciting not just because the store looked and smelled so good, but be-cause I was going to see so many people who I really liked. Our customers and their families are our friends and it's an honor that they consider our Christmas Show a family tradition.

Now, back to the shrimp and scallops. After the last door prize was given away, Chuck and Karolyn, Todd and Kara, Grandma "G" and our family would make our way to the Windmill for dinner. We left the dinner, filled to the brim with great food and another set of memories of Christmas Shows past to add to our collection that would make their way from our heads to our hearts.

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.

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