A Commercial Christmas Story HOWARD COUNTY

December 21, 1992

The unfettered hucksterism of the Christmas season leaves many people wondering whether it's less about the birth of the Christian messiah than it is about shopping, Bob Hope TV specials, overeating and cheesy mail-order albums of yuletide tunes performed by Steve and Eydie.

Still, not all Christmas commercialism is humbug. As an arrangement between a church and a garden center in Clarksville shows, it can do some good and even under score the seasonal theme of caring.

For the opening chapter of this Christmas story, go back to last Oct. 17, when a fire damaged the sanctuary and other sections of the Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church on Clarksville Pike. Pastor Terri Rae Chattin and her 375-member congregation were forced to cancel the church's year-end ham and oyster supper, an annual event that draws nearly 1,000 people and raises some $8,000 for church operations and outreach programs.

Not only were church officials and members faced with $200,000 in damages to the 29-year-old structure, they also had to compensate for the lost $8,000, much of which was earmarked to aid the homeless, the hungry and victims of domestic violence in Howard County and Baltimore City.

They decided they would sell Christmas trees at the church to raise some cash. As a courtesy, they told the owner of the neighboring River Hill Garden Center about their plan.

This left store owner Steve Klein in a jam. His was a new, independent operation that needed all the business it could get. While he was sympathetic to the church group, he didn't want nearby competition just as he was counting on Christmas tree sales to bolster his fledgling operation.

He then hatched a solution that will help both church and store: About half the price of any tree purchased at his garden center with a $2 coupon distributed by Linden-Linthicum United Methodist will go to the church. Mr. Klein also has allowed the church, which has agreed not to sell trees, to market craft items and baked goods in the store.

All told, the church could earn up to $8,000 from the deal. Mr. Klein benefits, too, by getting tree shoppers inside his garden center -- and by knowing he assisted a neighbor at a time of need.

And to think it was made possible by some good old Christmas commercialism.

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