Effort aims to raise holiday spirits

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Sharif Elsayed, left, owner of the Chopped Panini, hands silver garland to head cook Mario Howell on Wednesday as they decorate the community Christmas tree in front of the restaurant at Westridge Village Shopping Center.


Staff Writer

Friday, December 7, 2018

A local restaurant owner and a longtime local tree farm have come together in the hopes of helping people in the Twin Counties get into the Christmas spirit.

People coming to the Westridge Shopping Plaza on Sunset Avenue have probably noticed a tall 12-foot Christmas tree with some ornaments and lights on it in front of the Chopped Panini restaurant. Owner Sharif Elsayed came up with the unique idea to put up a community Christmas tree where anyone is welcome to come by and hang up an ornament on the tree.

To make it even more appealing for people to participate, Elsayed plans to give away prizes for the most unique and most popular ornaments starting at 2 p.m. Dec. 24.

“We’re encouraging people to join in and we want them to be as creative and imaginative as possible — whether it involves them painting or drawing the ornaments,” Elsayed said. “I just wanted to do something different and fun. We got some ornaments up and gotten some good compliments about the tree, but we’ve got plenty of spaces left and we just hope the people will get behind this and participate.”

Elsayed said his idea was fostered by how the landlord of the plaza, Mike Barnhill, puts forth the effort of putting Christmas lights around the plaza to help set the holiday atmosphere for the tenants and customers in the shopping center. Elsayed wanted to do something similar to help showcase his holiday spirit.

“I was sitting around one day and I saw how Mr. Barnhill, who is a great landlord, puts up these Christmas lights that cost thousands of dollars around the shopping center,” Elsayed said. “I like what he was doing and thought why not do something relating to Christmas. I also thought hopefully we can get some kids to help with the tree because in some cases there are kids from homes that might not have a tree to decorate.”

The tree came from the Sharpe Tree Farm at 12888 E. N.C. 97 in Rocky Mount. The Sharpe Tree Farm has been operating in the Twin Counties for more than 30 years, said lot manager Sherry Peele, who is the wife of Ricky Sharpe, owner of Sharpe Free Farm.

Peele said they grow their trees in Yancey and Mitchell counties in Western North Carolina, and business has been going well right now. Elsayed said he has bought Christmas trees in the past to support the local business.

Peele said it’s important for businesses in the Twin Counties to work together.

“We are a local Christmas tree farm trying to help out and we wanted to support his restaurant and they’re supporting our Christmas tree lot,” he said. “We feel like this was a good idea and hopefully people will make their way to the restaurant decorate the tree and check out what’s in the restaurant. It’s all about shopping small and helping local businesses.”