NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Charlie Banks dons his working clothes for the morning – protective white plastic coveralls with a hood, plastic booties and gloves.

Pulling an industrial-style respirator over his nose and mouth, he’s ready to enter the special room where he makes holiday magic for hundreds of households in Hampton Roads, Va.

For 16 years, Banks has flocked fresh-cut Fraser fir Christmas trees with the colors that customers love and ask for year after year.

Last year, it was a ruby red tree for Meredith Briscolino, a winter white one for Susie Hightower and a light pink one for John Woodard, also of Hampton. Banks does flocking in almost any color you want – red, blue, white, black, lavender and turquoise – in light, medium or heavy tones, with silver or gold flecks added for extra sparkle.

“My family tradition of flocked trees dates back to the early 1960s, when my mom (born in 1918) fell in love with the shock effect of the sparkle of the silver aluminum trees with the rotating lights that sat beside the tree and shown spotlights of various colors up onto the tree,” says Meredith Briscolino, who has had Banks flock her Christmas trees for 15 years.

“She did not want an artificial tree, but she wanted the shock effect of the colors on the tree. Her colors were blue, purple, and green in our living room, so she found a nursery in the Washington, D.C., area that showed her white flocked trees and for a few years she settled for white flocking … but being my mom, she soon asked about colors and wham, we got a pale purple flocked tree. And a family tradition began.”

In addition to big centerpiece trees, families often get smaller trees flocked for children’s or senior citizens’ rooms, according to Banks.

“The flocking helps trees last longer,” says Banks’ wife, Gilda.

“Last year, we did a winter wonderland scene with trees in our front yard, flocking the trees in white. It rained on them, and when we took the trees down in February, the flocking was still nice.”

Banks does the flocking in an enclosed room with a special machine at his business, Charlie’s Produce and Nursery in Yorktown, Va., where he also sells precut Fraser firs in all sizes. Frasers are ideal for flocking because their sturdy branching habit supports the flocking material and ornaments hang nicely among the open branches.

“When you think of Christmas trees, the vision of a peaceful setting of a Currier & Ives painting in a snow-covered village comes to mind,” says Susie Hightower.

“We like having our trees flocked because it’s a good way to have a live tree, smell the freshness and enjoy the variety of colors. They can also be recycled,” says John Woodard.

To flock a tree, Banks places it on a rotating platform. First, he mists the entire tree with water, and then sprays the colored flocking material, mixed with water mists, on the branches, working from top to bottom. The process takes about an hour per tree, but patience and attention to detail ensures the flocking goes on evenly.

Red flocking flows freely and Banks transforms the tree with ease.

After the 8-foot Fraser is flocked in a coating of holiday red, Banks stands back to admire it. Gold sparkles are added, and a final mist of water sets, or hardens, the flocking and makes it fire retardant. It takes about two days for a flocked tree to dry in a nearby heated room.

“The prettiest tree I ever did was a pink one with pink lights for my mother, Pinky Anna Banks,” says Banks.

“We surprised her with that tree on her front porch, and she just loved it.”


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