S. Claus has it all at the mall for a well-decorated Christmas

November 15, 1992|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

Ever wonder how Santa would look in pink satin? Or wish your carpet smelled like Christmas? Perhaps you'd simply like to spruce up your tree with red bandanna garland?

The S. Claus Collection can help. The new retail division of the Becker Group, a Baltimore-based holiday display company, has enough ornaments, stockings, lights, garlands, wreaths, trees and gifts to make even Santa's elves feel envious.

The stores, located in Towson Town Center and Owings Mills mall, boast more than 50,000 ornaments, ranging from the traditional to the truly unusual. The purist can find glass balls and ballerinas and bows, while the modern-day decorator can deck the boughs with cloth giraffes, covered wagons and Santa wearing a crew-neck sweater. (There's also carpet potpourri if you want your rug to smell like holly and ivy.)

But the real emphasis here is on service, says Marsha Becker, director of S. Claus. Beginning Thanksgiving weekend, the stores will open wreath bars where local artists from the Maryland Institute, the Baltimore School for the Arts and the Becker Group will custom-design artificial greens. Customers may choose the decoration or leave it to the imagination of the artists. (Prices will begin at $30.)

Also starting that weekend (and continuing through Christmas),

artists will put their imprints on silver balls. Acrylic paints, sequins and feathers are just some of the elements used to dress up these simple ornaments. The proceeds will go to St. Vincent's Child Care Center.

The Becker Group, which is considered one of the country's largest seasonal-decorations companies, decided to take the plunge into retail this year after nearly 40 years in the business. This year alone it will provide 600 shopping centers in North and South America with displays -- selling about 3,000 jingle bells and 65 tons of artificial snow.

With such experience, Gordon Becker, president of the company, decided the time was right to open stores.

To lead the new division, he turned to a woman with many years experience in the mall marketing business: his wife.

"For us, this seemed like the next logical step," Ms. Becker says.

With the sluggish economy, the company was able to get prime mall space -- on the first floor in Owings Mills, on the second level near the information booth in Towson Town Center.

In two buying "blitzes" to New York and Atlanta, Ms. Becker stocked the store -- picking up finds such as an electric angel whose wings really flutter. The stores opened in late October and will be closed after Dec. 31. Although the Christmas buying frenzy hasn't started yet, Ms. Becker is already considering expanding in malls throughout the Mid-Atlantic for the next holiday season.

As for the major decorating trends, she sums up the season this way:

* Traditional looks are strong, particularly small twinkling lights and ornaments evocative of the past. The selection of old-fashioned glass balls includes those from Poland, Germany, Russia and the United States.

* Since this is the 100th anniversary of "The Nutcracker," anything having to do with the beloved holiday ballet seems like a sure thing. The stores stock 18 different kinds of nutcrackers -- including beaded, quilted and pull-toy varieties.

* With country-western music dominating the airwaves, how can chili pepper lights not be, uh, hot this year? For those who want to carry the cowboy theme from branch to branch, there's plenty to choose from, including bird's nests, tin buckets and dried paper sunflowers.

* The environmental theme is showing real yuletide staying power. Recycled garlands, endangered species ornaments and miniature globes fill one tree at S. Claus Collection.

Although she appreciates the beauty of all the decorations, Ms. Becker, who happens to be a nature lover, admits to a special fondness for the environmental tree.

"This," she says with a smile, "is our message tree."

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