By Billy Liggett
It’s a Sunday afternoon — the last free Sunday afternoon for Susan Brightbill, owner of Floretta Imports on N.C. 15-501 in northern Lee County — but even on this “free day,” she’s at work decorating a fake Christmas tree in September.
Not five feet away from her tree and wall of ornaments and hand-carved, red-scarved foxes is a row of skeletons, graveyard headstones and the torso of a zombie with what appears to be rotting flesh and exposed guts.
The beginning of October officially marks the beginning of holiday season at Floretta Imports, and the next three months will dictate about two-thirds of the business it’ll take in for 2019. With rows of Halloween decor and an entire lower level of costumes, fall means more staff and Sunday hours — and all the while, Christmas awaits around the corner.
“I wish there was a break between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1,” says Brightbill, who even has Thanksgiving-themed decorations for the growing number of people who are decorating their house for that, too. “It would give us a small rest and allow us some time to get October out of the way and get Christmas in. I wish we had more room to keep all of it in the store at the same time.”
Looking around in Floretta Imports and its large warehouse stacked to the gills, it’s hard to believe there’s more that’s not making the shelves. In business since 1982, Floretta Imports today is a must-stop during the holiday season. The costume area has everything imaginable for every age out there — you want your kid dressed as a whoopie cushion on Oct. 31 … they have that. Disney costumes, generic costumes, gory costumes, sexy costumes … they have those, too. There’s also a wall of accessories for those looking to put together their own outfit. And Floretta offers something the online costume stores and Amazon don’t — last minute options.
“The last 10 days of the month are crazy for us, because so many people wait to the very last minute for their costume,” Brightbill says. “Especially the men. Thank God for the men. They’ll wander in here the morning of with no idea what they’re looking for. And we’ll help them find something.”
Costumes and ornaments weren’t what Brightbill and her family had in mind when Floretta started out as a wholesale craft and floral distributor in the early 1980s. Brightbill got into the business while in college, selling crafts and merchandise at Raleigh flea markets to pay the bills (and her tuition). The floral industry wasn’t ideal for her — before the days of everybody using credit cards, most of her time was spent chasing down florists trying to collect on bills.
The business model changed in 1987 when her family — overflowing with Christmas merchandise that year — decided to open up a month-long Christmas store at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh.
“That store saved our butts that year,” she says. “Not only that, I really enjoyed it. I loved the mall, and I loved the atmosphere. We eventually got out of wholesale and focused a lot on seasonal.”
Later, they tried to secure a Christmas store at Southpoint in Durham, but that mall wouldn’t offer the space unless they also occupied it in October. That’s when Brightbill and family decided to dive into Halloween decor and retail costume sales. She liked that even more.
For years, Floretta got by “enough to pay the electricity and keep running” for the first nine months and then made up for it during the holiday season, but Brightbill says today the store does well on its own January through September, and the final three months are the bread and butter. When not in Halloween or Christmas mode, Floretta sells crafts, birthday decor and more — plus the costumes are there year-round, because there’s always a reason to dress up. Brightbill also owns Lyons’ General Store in Crabtree Valley Mall, which specializes in the “Southern lifestyle brands you love.”
Floretta Imports is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays in October all the way through Christmas. Learn more about everything they offer at florettaimports.com