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What could be better than chocolates and Christmas

By Judy Hotchkiss
Tomahawk Contributor
What could be better than a big dose of Christmas decorating and more than a half dozen different chocolate treats – all wrapped in a Saturday home and business tour Dec. 8?

This year the Mountain City Rotary Club is presenting a house and business tour accented by chocolate snacks and drinks at every stop between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. the tour benefits the Rotary scholarship fund for local students.

Kathleen Gehr’s house will be brewing chocolate coffee to complement the rural farmhouse she made over with an artist’s eye. Her living Norfolk Island Pine is decorated with herbs from her summer garden. The bricks and stones in her fireplace were tumbled by Lake Michigan, near her native home. The rounded top iron fireplace door and over were handcrafted by Mountain City blacksmith John Winer. Her Santa figurines are one-of-a-kind dolls and her all-gold paper mache nativity is over-sized to match the tall ceilings in her wood and stone great room.

Nancy Garrick is in love with Christmas and all the decorations. She sets up the wintertime village made by her late husband. She says it depicts childhood Christmas in a rural a rural setting much like the Mountain City of her own childhood. She brings out her winter and Christmas theme Wee Forest Folks handmade of clay by a woman in New England. She has a nativity, Santa, skaters and carolers. Most collectable are her Duncan Royale figurines from the 1980s. Of the 12-design set, she has four depicting the various “looks” of Santa. Hers include the original bishop who became “Santa,” a Victorian depiction, one with wassail and a Civil War theme Santa Claus. Nancy also decorates theme trees and theme rooms in her house, including one dedicated to the beach and one with handmade Santas, each 30 to 40 years old, although there is also a “new” one depicting a Santa on skis (for the early snow, perhaps). It was made by a Nashville artist.
“I really love Christmas!” she says. “It’s the best time of the year.”

Director Flo Bellamy’s staff at the Mountain City/Johnson County Community Center are equally enthused about Christmas. They are also ingenious at finding ways to decorate the community center on a slim budget. “Found” items and happenstance dominates their journey from concept (silver and burgundy) to execution – which you will see on the tour. New this year will be decorations in the game room which will be decidedly child friendly in theme. And touchable in execution, says Jackie. Their work will feature four or five trees, and window scenes which make use of the center’s extra-deep window sills. At press time, the team was still working on the exciting, unique food item they’ll be serving with hot chocolate.

Watauga Lake Winery, 6952 Big Dry Run Road, Butler, features a wine making tour of the former Big Dry Run School where the winery’s bottling operation and tasting room are located. The tour includes former classrooms and bottling area adjacent to the former gymnasium. The winery’s tasting room will be open during the tour. This room is limited to anyone age 21 and over. The tasting tour is $3 per adult and is optional.
In the tasting room, owners Linda and Wayne Gay will have some of their Italian pottery for sale. It was during Linda’s long career as a marketing representative of the pottery maker that they fell in love with Italy and with wine, and thus, wine making. The winery also sells gift baskets with cheese, chocolates and bottles of wine. Guests may also buy individual bottles of wine as well as cases.  Across the hall tour guests will see the banquet room where the winery is beginning to put on “wine club” dinners (food paired with wine flights). Jean Ann Savery will be selling her handmade jewelry along with other crafts persons and handmade chocolate makers.

Vikki Woods, owner of Iron Mountain Inn, a bed and breakfast, 268 Moreland Dr., Butler, says her house will feature a live Christmas tree with sentimental ornaments from her collection. Guests will be able to tour the guest rooms, take in the view of the Iron Mountain range and enjoy an interesting chocolate dessert.

Mountain Fitness Center will be decorated in a way only a gym can do it. Tour directors are assuming the dessert will be both tasty and just a tad healthy.

Two businesses in Downtown Mountain City are open for tour this year. At Tributary Restaurant & Catering Co. the rustic wood on the walls and the booths will play well with the outdoors feel of owner Aleta Higgins’ decorations. Her Christmas tree features a tin rooster, grape vine balls and other natural materials. Since food is the focus of this location, Aleta promises an especially tasty chocolate snack as part of the tour. The restaurant will also be open all day for lunch and dinner (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

Next door, ShayBrey Florist and Gift Shop owner Brenda Church and her staff have gone all out to provide the Christmas-theme home decor. Her newly-expanded store features no less than nine vignettes, each with a slightly different take on Christmas decorating. Don’t miss this area in the back left corner of the store. Up front, a mantle overflows with baubles, ribbons – red and tan plaid is popular this year – and lots of glitter. Her stock includes many Santas and plus Teddy bears as well as table toppers and several really huge ornaments and displays.

All businesses on the tour, with the exception of the B&B, will be open to public shopping and dining the day of the tour and may have longer hours than the tour.

Tickets are $15/person and are available as follows:
Online at; advance tickets: Tributary Restaurant and ShayBrey Florals located at 118 and 110 W. Main St. Mountain City.

Day of tickets: Tributary, ShayBrey, Watauga Lake Winery and Iron Mountain Inn.  For information, Aleta Higgins at 423-727-4150.