Christmas Comes to Crane Country
By Tim Tesconi
When the last Crane melon rolls out the door each fall, the Crane family gets busy transforming their historic Crane Melon Barn into a glittering country Christmas boutique.
And a remarkable transformation it is as wreaths, decorated trees, sparkling lights and gift items galore festoon the landmark Santa Rosa barn that two centuries ago housed horses and hay. Today, it’s a well-preserved piece of Sonoma County history that during the fall serves as the outlet for the family’s Crane Melons, a local delicacy for nearly a century. Once the melons are gone, the barn is decked for Christmas and for its next starring role.
For the last 25 years or so, the Crane Family, as rooted to the soil on Petaluma Hill Road as their namesake melons, have staged the Christmas boutique. The boutique not only shares their love for the barn and all things Christmas but generates extra farm income. Some would call it agri-tourism but the Cranes just call it fun, taking pride in sharing the old barn during this magical time of the year.
“The Cranes loves Christmas,” said Cindy Crane, who is the wife of Rick Crane, the fifth generation of his family to farm the Santa Rosa land settled by Crane family members in 1852. Actually the Christmas boutique in the Crane barn was started by Rick’s late mother Jacqueline Crane, a crafter who started selling some of her crafted creations along with her walnuts and dried fruit once the melon season was finished.
The trip to the Crane barn is as uniquely rewarding as the shopping experience. The old barn is one of those quintessential Sonoma County places that, particularly, during the Christmas season offers an escape from the madding crowds and traffic jams at shopping malls and big box stores. While most Sonoma County farms have closed for the winter, the Crane Melon Barn and others like Oak Hill Farm’s Red Barn in the Sonoma Valley stay open during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The Crane Christmas Boutique has grown over the years. Announcements about the event are now sent to more than 1,300 people on the mailing list and many more guests are invited via the internet. Others find their way to the Crane barn through advertising or just driving along Petaluma Hill Road and spotting the activity.
The Christmas Boutique opens its door the day after Thanksgiving and then runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Dec. 22.
“From summer through Christmas it’s pretty crazy around here because we move from the Crane melons right to the Crane Christmas Boutique,” said Cindy Crane.
Rick and Cindy’s daughter and only child Jennifer Crane, 35, is carrying on the family farming tradition, which, today, includes wine grapes along with the Crane melons and hay. Generations of the Crane Family have been members of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the county’s oldest and largest agricultural organization. They also are active in the agricultural community. Cindy serves on the board of directors of the Sonoma County Fair and Jennifer, a former 4-H Club member and state winner in beekeeping, is a director of the 4-H Foundation of Sonoma County.
In addition to her love for farming, Jennifer also inherited the Crane’s Christmas gene, going all out to decorate her home on the family ranch off Crane Canyon Road. Each year she puts up four Christmas trees, each with themed decorations, like the Barbie tree in one room and the wine themed tree in another.
The Crane Christmas Boutique also is built around an annual theme. This year’s theme is “Holiday Sparkle with the Cranes” and the inside of the old barn sparkles with lights, tinsel and all sorts of crystal and glass collectables. Cindy Crane, who worked in banking for many years and is more comfortable balancing ledgers than decorating and staging merchandise, hands over that part of the show to friend and boutique partner Brenda Turley.
Brenda works for weeks to decorate the barn and display the gift items. It’s an on-going task because once the boutique is open and merchandise moves out, she’s replenishing the tables and shelves with other gift items.
The Cranes work with local crafts people, artists and antique dealers to assemble an array of gifts and collectibles that are often one-of-a-kind and sometimes uniquely Sonoma County, like the vintage Grace Bros. beer can being offered this year. There’s handmade jewelry, silver serving pieces, gourmet food and holiday décor. It’s an adventure to explore this country emporium. Next to a Christmas pillow there’s a wind chime crafted from an old parking meter. There are gifts for the horse enthusiast and porcelain tea cups from Ireland for a favorite aunty.
“We strive to keep it fun and eclectic, offering gifts that definitely are not made in China,” said Cindy Crane. Throughout the year, Jennifer Crane scouts the county for whimsical stuff that bring smiles and ring up sales at her family’s Christmas boutique.
Each year, the Cranes offer space in the barn to a non-profit group to sell merchandise and raise funds. This year, the Cranes are partnering with the North Bay Woolgrowers Auxiliary, a non-profit organization that raises money for agricultural scholarships and other educational programs.
“The non-profits get to sell their items with no charge,” said Cindy. Normally, she said, vendors pay a start-up fee towards advertising and then 20 percent of their sales to the Crane Melon Barn.
Cindy said the staffing for sales is on a cooperative basis, with all vendors working designated shifts during the 15 days the barn is open during the Christmas season. On busy weekends the barn is jam-packed with customers looking for that special gift item. The good thing is that they will likely find it.
What: Crane Christmas Boutique
Days and Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 22
Where: Crane Melon Barn, 4935 Petaluma Hill Road, Santa Rosa