Angie Bullington wants to continue R.L. Davis's legacy.
The longtime businessman died in April and left The Christmas Store to Mrs. Bullington, who managed the seasonal shop for nearly 20 years.
"His legacy was important to him, and he felt The Christmas Store was his legacy," Mrs. Bullington said. "I want to continue his legacy."
When she took a job as a seasonal employee for Davis, she never thought she would one day be sitting behind his desk, running the business. She knew nothing about retail when she started, but Davis taught her every stage of the business.
"It's still a learning process," she said. "Every year is a new lesson."
Davis taught her how important customers and employees were. "I hope to continue that," she said, adding that the employees are like a family.
"It's going to take all of us to make this a success … It's important for us and for him," she said of Davis. "Plus, it's fun. You get to decorate and design."
After working all day in a Christmas wonderland, most people wouldn't think she'd want to decorate much for the holidays at home. But last year, she had seven Christmas trees — all decorated in different themes from her years of collecting.
"I'm just a Christmas fiend," she said. "I just love Christmas."
Davis opened The Christmas Store in Tyler in 1978 and slowly began adding China, jewelry and other merchandise to open R.L. Davis Fine Gifts in 1989. She said he soon separated the stores into two entities, but in 1998, he rejoined the businesses. In 2002, he closed The Christmas Store and in 2006, he sold R.L. Davis, which is now Cole & Co. Davis planned to retire but soon became bored and missed his employees and customers, Mrs. Bullington said. In 2008, Davis reopened The Christmas Store in the building on West Erwin Street that he had used as a Christmas tree warehouse.
"He was Jewish, and he loved Christmas," she said of Davis. "Christmas was always my passion, too."
Mrs. Bullington, 42, said they had a unique relationship. "He called me his half Jewish child," she said. "He was a father figure to me."
She said Davis loved his employees.
"We were all his children," she added.
Mrs. Bullington grew up in Carthage and attended Panola College and studied horticulture at Texas A&M University. She worked in banking while in school and came to Tyler to be near her sister. Mrs. Bullington was wondering what she was going to do with her life and decided to apply for temporary, seasonal job at The Christmas Store because it sounded like fun. But when all of the other seasonal employees were let go, Davis asked her to stay. He began training her in every aspect of the store, and she became office/store manager the next year.
She said she and Davis had several talks about her continuing the store. He left the store to her when he passed away but had one request — to hang his picture behind the register so he would always be there.
"This was his second home," she said.
Even when Davis was really sick, he came up to the store at least once a week.
"He still had to have his hand in it," she said. Davis suffered a major heart attack while they were at market in Dallas in 2010. Shortly after, he broke his hip. He was 86 when he died in April, she said.
"It's a huge honor," Mrs. Bullington said of Davis leaving the store to her. She said it wasn't just about her; it was about all of the store's employees, some of whom have been there 25 to 30 years.
"It wasn't just about giving me something," she said. "It was about being able to continue what he had done."
The Christmas Store has a Halloween room, where they sell fun, happy Halloween décor.
"And we have anything Christmas you could ask for," she said.
Davis felt strongly about having something for everyone, no matter what the customer's income, Mrs. Bullington said, adding that they have a lot of upscale, "best-you-can-get" items but also offer the best prices because they buy in bulk.
They sell lit Christmas trees, collectibles, ornaments and decorations of all kinds. They have designers that make custom wreaths, garlands and swags, centerpieces and other arrangements.
"We've got great designers and very talented people here," she said.
The Christmas Store opens for the season on Saturday and the second week of January. There are three employees year-round and eight to 10 workers when it is open. Mrs. Bullington starts buying items at market in January, when she makes the bulk of her big orders for the following Christmas season. She attends three or four markets across the country per year. That, along with accounting, designing and deciding what new merchandise to offer each year is a year-round job, she said.
When asked what her favorite Christmas item was to collect, she said, "I like it all. I think that's why it's so hard when you go to market … you fall in love with it."
After every season, they strip the entire store to start fresh for the next year.
"Elves are really big this year," she said when asked what the most popular thing will be this season. She has also seen different colors, like platinum and chocolate, coming back to popularity, as well as "anything that dazzles and is glitzy," she said.
Mrs. Bullington decorated a Texas-themed tree this year, as well as a woodland tree for hunters. They even have redneck stockings, made of camouflage and fur, she said.
"We try to keep something for everybody," she said.
This year, they added a 15-foot tree, which stands about 19 feet on its stand, and is full of ornaments, ribbon and other decorations.
She said the 10,000-square-foot facility, which includes a 7,500-square-foot showroom floor and two storage buildings, is completely full. Employees were working overtime last week, putting the final touches on the store for the season.
The Christmas Store will offer photos with Santa and Mrs. Clause in November and December. The shop will also hold a Ladies Night Out from 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 12, with door prizes, specials, food and wine; and a huge day-after-Christmas sale.