The Christmas Tree Shops retail chain has opened its first store in southern New Jersey, offering shoppers an array of merchandise far beyond what the name implies.

"We've been getting a lot of feedback. A lot of people never knew what we were," store manager Sue Couture said Monday.

She said after 40 years in business, the retailer "can't just change the name. The only thing I can think of would be to make it Christmas Tree Shops, Etc."

Linda Wimberg, of Galloway Township, said she visited the store in the Consumer Square shopping center expecting Christmas merchandise, maybe even just decorative Christmas trees.

She came out telling others heading in that "it's really cheap."

"I got things for a trip I'm taking," Wimberg said. "I got some Easter things already, and some paper goods for birthdays. I'm very pleased. And I didn't mean to buy anything in there."

Couture said each of the chain's 61 stores can select its own merchadise, giving them somewhat different looks.

A sampling Monday of the Mays Landing store's stock included lamps, food, patio and dining furniture, costumes, paper and cleaning products, home decorations, bird feeders and houses, garden seeds and rose plants, and small appliances such as toasters and slow cookers.

Christmas Tree Shops also has some brands of its own, such as Nantucket paper and party products, and Mill Farm spices.

Couture said the store is sort of like a Big Lots - which also has some closeouts - "but more upscale."

Some of the merchandise looks like it would be at home in a Bed Bath & Beyond, which has more than 1,000 stores and also is the parent company of Christmas Tree Shops.

Couture said they operate as two different companies and compete a little, but "they've got a lot more high-end stuff, and we've got a lot of little stuff."

Christmas Tree Shops was privately held until 2002, when Union Township-based Bed Bath & Beyond acquired it for $200 million in cash. Annual sales then were $370 million, company records show.

Rene Beretsky, spokeswoman for the chain, said Monday that the company does not break out its results from quarterly earnings of the rest of the parent company. For the quarter ending Nov. 28, Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. had revenue of nearly $2 billion and net income of $151 million.

Beretsky said the stores also do not hold traditional grand openings but instead will distribute a grand opening sale flier for the store Feb. 25.

With the opening of the 34,000-square-foot-store - the seventh Christmas Tree Shops in the state - the company has finished a string of four openings this year and does not expect more until fall, Beretsky said. Other recent openings were in Bridgewater Township, Somerset County; Maryland, and Kentucky.

Couture said the Mays Landing store is starting with about 110 part- and full-time employees, more than it expects to need. "I'm not sure how many we'll get down to. I'm not sure of what the business needs are," she said.

A specialist in launching Christmas Tree Shops locations, Couture said she has opened more than 30 of its stores - more than half the chain's total.

"I move around a lot. I opened a store last year in Indiana," she said, and came to the Mays Landing store from Newport, R.I.

The new store will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Contact Kevin Post:

609-272-7250