Pharo Garden Centre Christmas Displays

Pharo Garden Centre Christmas Displays

Santa Claus is coming to town!

Founded in 1912 by Penn State graduate Merritt Pharo, Pharo Garden Centre at 4505 Easton Avenue in Bethlehem hosts a popular annual Christmas Shoppe that draws familiar and new customers from the tri-state region and beyond.

“We’re opening two weeks early this year so people don’t feel like they’re packing in,” said Victoria Leister, who runs Pharo Garden Centre with her partner, Ray Steidinger, who bought the business from the Pharo family in 1978 after working there for many years and graduating from Delaware Valley College with an ornamental horticulture degree. Leister, who earned an ornamental horticulture and landscape architecture degree from Temple University, joined the business in 1981. With those combined credentials, it should come as no surprise that the year-round business grows many of its own plants – including vegetable garden starts and annual and perennial ornamentals – at its own farm in Bethlehem Township. The business otherwise sources locally, with “organic” and “sustainable” firmly on the radar.

“Our original intention was just to have a fun time at the end of the regular planting season and to enjoy our customers,” Leister explained. While Pharo Garden Centre currently sends out thousands of invitations to the event – redeemable for a surprise gift (as supplies last) and 10 percent off purchases – to thousands of people on its mailing list, that was not always the case.

“We didn’t have many customers who knew about the Christmas Shoppe at first,” Leister said, “and we didn’t send out invitations.” Customers originally learned about the endeavor, she said, when they came in to buy holiday items such as trees and wreaths and Christmas blankets.

Word traveled fast and was enhanced by the postcard invitations.

During the regular planting season, Leister said, Pharo Garden Centre is basically a one-room operation. That all gets transformed into individual holiday-themed rooms featuring old-world Christmas items from around the globe including Byers’ Choice, Ginger Cottages, Inge-Glas, German wooden ornaments, nutcrackers, smokers and carousels, as well as cemetery and fair-trade items.

“It takes at least two months to set up,” Leister said. “Taking it all down is a much slower process because you have to carefully pack everything.” And as the seasons shift and customers come in to request items such as graduation ornaments, she said, “you have to know where everything is. We try to put things where we can find them. It has to be a little more organized than ripping boxes open and putting everything out.”

The Pharo Garden Centre’s 30th Annual Open House and Christmas Shoppe runs from November 12 through November 30 Mondays through Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 6p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The store will be closed on Thanksgiving, and the Christmas themes will be on display through the end of January.

“It takes so much time to put it up and we worked so hard on it from the end of the growing season that we’re not in a big hurry to take it down,” Leister said. Plus, she said, it’s not unusual for people to come in requesting an item someone else had been given as a gift during the holidays and who had inquired to the lucky recipient as to where it had been purchased.

While you will never find a “sale” at Pharo Garnen Centre, Leister said, all items are always priced fairly and competitively. ” Our prices are the same all the time. It’s not just that our prices are cheap, it’s that they’re fair.”

Is all the work of putting together the Christmas Shoppe worth the effort? Leister said
it’s not about the monetary payoff.

“It puts everyone in a good mood,” she said. “We love plants and we love growing them, and we like Christmas and making our customers happy. We like what we’re doing. I think if we didn’t we would have quit a long time ago. It’s hard work, kind of like having a dairy farm. You can’t ever leave.”

While making adjustments during the pandemic, such as expanding the dates of their Annual Open House and Holiday Shoppe in order to give customers a little more space, Steidinger and Leister said they are committed now more than ever to their mission of spreading natural beauty as well as Christmas cheer.

“We’re just presuming that people will still want to shop,” Leister said. “When you run a business, you can’t have a black cloud over your head all the time. You’ve got to be a little optimistic.”

Pharo Garden Centre
4505 Easton Ave

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram