Through the Doors of Martha’s Workshop

CONTANT AND ENIGHED — It’s become a holiday tradition, the appearance of Martha Toomey and her Christmas store at the Marketplace. Five years since Christmas Tree Martha first set up shop a steady stream of visitors have come to her door.

They come for different reasons. Some come to buy or rent. Some come to browse. Some, she said, come to reminisce about holidays gone by.

Like the Christmas season, the pop up store is around for just a few weeks. Toomey can be found inside, trimming trees and wreaths, depending on what’s at hand.

Artificial and natural, green and white trees greet visitors at the door. There are no signs of this year’s trend — vividly colored trees in unexpected colors. A scent of pine fills the air. This year, she said, an extra delivery of fresh trees came in.

Delightful to the eye and nose, freshly cut trees don’t pass muster with one of Toomey’s biggest customers, St. John villa managers. At one company, Catered To, artificial rentals are in demand.

On the workstation behind her seat, a whimsical metal tree coils and sends little fingers out in petal like formations, like a coral reef.  In another corner are Charlie Brown Christmas trees; spare affairs, bent in places, with a lonely red ball hanging down.

People like to come in and talk, Toomey says. One customer came in every day, just to look around. From her workbench she said she hears tales of Christmas back home and things that happened that almost robbed their joy. “You hear a lot of sad stories sometimes,” Toomey said.

But the mood brightens quickly again. Perhaps her favorite creation this year was the tree decorated for the Parrot Club. Martini glass ornaments, but wouldn’t you know it? The club owner wanted the tree delivered and displayed according to the Christian liturgical calendar.

Some are made and some are bought. Toomey spends much of her time trimming artificial trees with odds and ends. Think of it as a form of recycling. Old decorations are carried in, taken apart and mingled into new creations.

And nothing goes to waste. Broken branches of a fresh tree were gathered into fragrant sprays, bound with ribbon. Toomey called them swags, popular in Virginia. Besides, she adds, there are no more forms to make wreaths with.

“Christmas is completely regional. When people come in here, first I ask them where they’re from, because everybody has their expectations about what they want for Christmas and it almost invariably has to do with where they grew up and what their memories of Christmas were,” she said.

Once the swag is gathered, it needs something special. A rummage through an old ornament box yields a little gold violin. It pairs perfectly with a wide gold bow.

A customer comes in. Toomey chats them up about what’s new and who’s family is bringing in their five-year-old for a birthday party around the decorating table. In a corner in the back is a space where anyone can make their own ornaments. Children love the make your own work table, she said, but more often it’s ladies with glasses of wine.

More curious faces poke through the doorway, eyes wide. Grandmothers hold the hands of children as they look and point around the room. A visiting school boy, maybe nine or ten years old, drifts through the door. Having appointed himself Martha’s workshop helper, Toomey begins by giving him the task of the day. She sends him to organize the craft table and check all the felt tipped markers to make sure they can still color.

On another day, a visitor comes in with decoration donations. One is a green garland with a wire spine that’s been wound up into a wreath. An invisible light bulb sparks up overhead. Of course, she says, and starts digging into the garland pile.

Wonder, delight and creativity, combined with a listening ear makes the holiday workshop more play than work for Toomey. Her indulgent husband and son wander in and out, share a paper bag lunch and ramble back out to do some chores at the house.

Christmas Tree Martha says she plans to keep it up until Christmas Eve. “I don’t go anywhere,” she said. “On Christmas Eve, the minute it seems that everybody has everything they want, I close.”