At his new KingView Meadhouse & Winery on Beverly Road, Scott Neeley aims to make some holiday magic.
When the place opens at 4 p.m. on Thursday, December 9, the same night as Beverly Brite Nite, lights will be burning bright on at least 10 live Christmas trees in the side courtyard of the former service station on Beverly at McFarland Road. Neeley and his colleagues bought, set up and strung lights on the trees, then invited nonprofits, families and other groups to decorate them. Opening night through December, customers can tour them and make donations to support their favorite trees, with all the proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation—he hopes at least the $4,400 it takes to send a deserving family to Disney World.
This bright idea for the “1st Annual Christmas Tree Contest” grew out of his own childhood, when he was blessed to grow up with a Santa Claus of an uncle named John “Jack” Neuser. Western Pennsylvanians may not recognize his name, but generations knew and loved Neuser’s work. He was the guy in charge of decorating the windows of downtown Pittsburgh’s Kaufmann’s department store for the holidays, with whimsical and mechanical contraptions that would be unveiled on Light Up Night. Neuser was the Smithfield Street flagship store’s visual merchandise manager for more than 40 years, creating vivid tableaus that brought people downtown in droves. He was written about in the newspapers and even appeared in the 2002 Rick Sebak documentary, “Happy Holidays in Pittsburgh,” talking about how some of the displays were powered by employees pedaling or walking on treadmills behind the scenes.
Young Scott Neeley would go downtown with his family to see the unveiling of the store’s windows. But his family also got to go to Neuser’s Bethel Park home, which his uncle also decorated flamboyantly for the holidays.
“Around every corner, you didn’t know what you were about to see,” remembered Neeley, who recalls his uncle having a dozen or more trees, with themes ranging from Disney to Lenox china to Swarovski crystal. “I couldn’t even understand how the tree was strong enough to hold all that weight,” Neeley said. “It was literally a crystal tree.”
Children couldn’t just run around the house, but oh, did they have fun there. They also loved when Santa’s helper came to visit. They didn’t know Santa’s helper was one of their male relatives, all padded up in a vintage suit from the department store.
Kaufmann’s became Macy’s, Macy’s downtown store closed—joining Gimbel’s and Joseph Horne Co. as department stores that aren’t there anymore—in 2015, and Neuser retired after a 43-year-career, then died in 2016 at the age of 74.
Now 41, Neeley would don that same vintage suit and do his turns as Santa’s helper for the family, which includes his cousins and Uncle Jack’s daughters, Julie Freedy, Park Entrance Drive, and Amy Wilhelm of Bethel Park.
The women decorated two of the inaugural batch of KingView trees, including, in their father’s honor, a Kauffman’s-themed blue spruce decorated with small reproductions of the Santa paintings he did after he retired.
There’s also a blue Penn State-themed tree, and one by decorated by U Studio salon, and Farm to Table Western PA is decorating one, too. There’s still time for other families and groups to decorate one if they bring their own tree to the courtyard, which has room for several more, around a fire ring that also will be burning bright.
Neeley says the winning tree will be commemorated on a plaque that will hang on a wall inside the place, as will winners in seasons after. He looks forward to more and more flamboyant trees next year, with proceeds benefiting another charity.
“The idea came from just that memory,” he said, talking about his uncle. “I wanted to create my own memory that made me feel like seeing the Kaufmann’s windows.”
Neeley lives in Pleasant Hills, where, since he started KingView in 2015, he’s been making his many different kinds meads—honey wines—and wines and cider. He’ll eventually make them on a farm near Grove City, Mercer County, that’s reservable now for events, and he sells KingView products at Washington County’s Tanger Outlets. The new Mt. Lebanon taproom has 40 taps for dispensing draft versions of those as well as Pennsylvania beers, and for this month’s soft opening they’ll have several holiday drinks, some of them made with Pennsylvania spirits.
The Nordic decor feels warmly wintry, with Valhalla-esque torch lights flickering on the walls and chair backs draped with sheepskins and a woodland mural. The black walnut and epoxy bar top and tables, including the long one that can seat 20, running across what once was auto service bays, were made not by a Viking but by a former Pittsburgh Steeler John Malecki. The kitchen will turn out a variety of foods, limited to start, including trays of meat and cheese such as brunost, or Norwegian brown cheese, which tastes like caramel.
Hours this month will start out as 4 to 10 p.m. Weds.-Thurs., 11 a.m. to midnight Fri.-Sat. and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sun., with a grand opening to happen in the new year. Follow KingView on social media or visit their website.
Neeley’s Mom, Peg, sums up how stopping in should feel like visiting Jack’s house at the holidays. “It was such FUN.”