It was not hard to see the joy of the holiday season at Larry Smith’s Christmas tree lot on Morganton Boulevard Thursday morning as Smith set up on the same corner for the 34th year in a row.
It’s a tradition for his family, Smith said. His sons grew up on the lot, and Thanksgivings for the Smiths aren’t spent around a dining room table but around a fire pit, surrounded by Christmas trees.
By 9 a.m. Thursday, a fire was going, a string of lights lit and Fraser firs stood in rows.
The only thing left to do was inflate the giant snowman.
Smith, who owns Mountain Top Fraser Fir in Newland, became the center of a controversy last year when he refused to take down a 35-foot inflatable snowman that city officials said violated the city's rules for advertising. Smith had installed a snowman before, but never one so large. He was fined $50 a day by the city. Some people started a “Save Frosty” Facebook page, which now has more than 2,500 likes, and kids who loved Frosty were even donating pennies and nickels to help Smith pay the fines.
By the end, Smith lost his appeals and paid about $2,500 in fines, but he said the outpouring of support from the community more than made up for it.
The Lenoir City Council voted in October to change the advertising rules to allow displays such as Frosty for up to 30 days, with a permit.
Smith inflated his snowman Thursday with his city permit in his pocket.
But Smith's snowman wasn't the first set up in Lenoir this season.
Frances and J.C. Woods, owners of Three Top Mountain Tree Farm, set up a smaller one last weekend at their tree lot at the intersection of Morganton Boulevard and Harper Avenue. The first day, Frances Woods said, people driving by shouted and clapped at the sight.
The Woodses had a snowman last year too but took it down when the city said it violated the rules.
Frances Woods said they're happy the city changed the rules. “We’re glad to have it back, we think it adds to the season.”
Smith added something to his family tradition, and it will stand as a highlight of all the years he has spent at the corner. He proposed to his girlfriend, Beth Gibbons, at Frosty’s big inflated feet. She said yes.
“It totally shocked me,” Gibbons said. “All we’ve talked about is Frosty and opening the lot. It’s just a total shock.”
Smith had been planning the proposal for weeks.
“Frosty and I have been through thick and thin for over 30 years,” Smith said of why he chose that time and place to propose. “He’s like an old pal.”