Many guys don’t like shopping, but for Ron Meyers it’s his second life.
The Gulfport promoter is preparing for his biggest weekend of the year as Christmas City returns to Biloxi’s Coast Convention Center from Friday through Sunday.
This year’s show is especially important, he said, and he and his staff are readying the Christmas magic.
“Christmas City: the post-election stress reliever,” he calls it and says, “People are ready for an escape.”
Something borrowed, something new
“Christmas City is always about a surprise,” said Meyers, and this year it will be the largest interactive train display on the Gulf Coast. Inside a 220-foot square will be trains to ride, Lego trains and model train setups.
“I’ve been assured it will have the wow effect,” Meyers said as crews began to assemble the trains.
As shoppers peruse 300 booths filled with fruitcake, jewelry and other gifts, kids create a masterpiece in the craft area, get their face painted and sit for a photo with Santa.
When some suggested they needed a place to watch the weekend football games, Myers responded with a “Thank you for telling me. So now we have a sports lounge — college football on Saturday, NFL football on Sunday,” he said.
He’s also creating a Christmas marketplace for Gulfport’s Harbor Lights event that begins Nov. 25 and runs through the New Year. He was “thoroughly impressed” by last year’s inaugural display of lights at Jones Park and suggested to city organizers an idea he’s seen work elsewhere — filling a decorated tent with artists offering hand crafted gifts.
“They loved the idea,” he said, and he’s recruiting artisans for the five-week show.
This year Meyers has combined a way to help local charities with a private, 3-hour shopping experience just for adults at Christmas City.
Friday’s Charity VIP Shopping Night is three hours of shopping without the kids, along with entertainment and light hors d’oeuvres. Shoppers buy a $25 a ticket, $15 of which goes to one of the 14 charities of their choice. Whichever charity sells the most tickets gets and additional $1,000 prize from Christmas City.
The Humane Society of South Mississippi was leading ticket sales early in the week, Myers said, although other charities were closing the gap. Tickets can be purchased online at christmascitygiftshow.com until 6 p.m. Friday.
A two-part life
This is the 33rd year for Christmas City and the second part of his life, said Meyers, 59.
After getting out of the Air Force and settling in South Mississippi, he promoted bikini contests, swimsuit calendars, mud wrestling matches and similar events.
“It was all about me making a buck for me,” he admits. “I was chasing an illusion.”
In 1998 he closed his office and told his staff he couldn’t afford them in his new life.
I have a picture of Jesus now on my desk. You know I had a picture on my desk when I started — it was J.R. Ewing.
“I’ve got to go chase God,” he said, “Everybody — except my wife — said you’re nutty.” He and his wife, Karen, have been married 29 years and she’s seen both sides of his life.
“When I became true to the call of my life, my life started to be fun,” he said. “I got a destiny. I got to go chase my dreams. I never looked back.”
To illustrate the change, Meyers said, “I have a picture of Jesus now on my desk. You know I had a picture on my desk when I started — it was J.R. Ewing,” the ruthless businessman from the television show “Dallas.” Meyers said he thought to get ahead in business a person had to act like that.
Christmas City helps fund his nonprofit Ron Meyers Ministries and he said, “It’s all about hope.”
He grew up in Iowa, one of seven children and the self-described black sheep of the family. “I had big dreams and big ideas. In Iowa you just didn’t talk like that,” he said.
His Midwest accent gave him a distinctive voice for his afternoon show for 9 years on Christian radio station 91.7 in South Mississippi. One day a Fed Ex package arrived, with no warning, saying the local shows were being cut and his job would be terminated. He was given a severance package, but only if he didn’t announce the show’s demise to his loyal listeners or talk about it for a year.
“I just disappeared,” he said. “It was actually probably the worst day of my entire life,” he said. “It was just terrible, but I tell people now, six years later, that the worst day is now the best day of my life.”
He was so comfortable in his life he would not have made the break, he said.
We each have a destiny. I don’t think our full joy and happiness will ever come without understanding what our destiny is.
“God strategically places us in the right place at the right time, when we think it’s the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. That kind of wisdom is what he’ll share in the book he hopes to finish writing and have out in the spring.
“It’s all about life lessons,” he said.
A Coast tradition
Sixty percent of the 240 exhibitors at Christmas City will return, and he has a waiting list of another 60 vendors.
“We let the market determine it,” he said. The most popular booths come back and the ones who don’t return make room for new products and companies.
“This is a Gulf Coast tradition,” he said, one that brings out friends and generations of family who don their holiday sweater and pull on their dress boots.
“Every Christmas City gets a cold front,” he said, putting people in the Christmas spirit. “It’s just a magical time of year.”
If you go:
What: Christmas City gift show
Where: Coast Convention Center, U.S. 90, Biloxi
When: Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Charity VIP Shopping Night Friday 6-9 p.m.
Admission: Tickets available at the door. $8 for 1-day, $12 for 2-day pass. Children 15 and under free. $5 for photo with Santa