Mulch Madness: Crooning at the Garden Center
It's not intended as hyperbole: A garden center in Oak Creek is like none other in the world.
A survey of the world's nurseries and garden center finds plenty that cover 20 acres, many which carry numerous varieties of saplings, and probably a handful that also offer organic meats and eggs. But an exhaustive search turns up no other garden center that boasts its own Frank Sinatra impersonator.
Visit Mega Discount Nursery on Rawson Avenue, and you might encounter 78-year old Russ Beaumonte on the stage built for him by his son, owner Mike Beaumonte. The elder Beaumonte sings into a sound system, accompanied by stage lights, and recorded orchestras, playing songs made popular decades ago by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Perry Como. The speakers carry music throughout the store and onto the acres of grounds outside.
Beaumonte has always sung well, but he hasn't always courted an audience. "I was in a choir when I was a teenager - in junior high school," he says. "But it wasn't cool. And I didn't want anyone to know I could sing, so when it was my turn, I'd try to sing off-key and sound bad. But as a result, I got a very low grade."
But years later, his son Mike convinced him that he had a talent for sounding like Ol' Blue Eyes. And so Russ found himself booked into performing at community centers, in Florida, and - once - on a cruise ship.
Those are all relatively normal places to sing. But his regular gig at Mega Discount Nursery is what keeps the audience coming back. "There's a large group of people who come here for one reason," Mike Beaumonte says, "that's to hear him sing." Some will dance, he says, right there among the bags of potting soil and fertilizer. And some have become big enough fans that they've held private parties after hours at the garden center - with Beaumonte providing the entertainment.
Others, Russ Beaumonte says, will hear the singing from other parts of the store, and not believe the man behind the counter was serenading them.
He says the best part of the gig is getting to share his love for Sinatra's music with people - and learning that they're fans, too. "I've had people who have come from all different parts of the world - even from Japan and Germany - say we've heard of Frank Sinatra. We have ethnic people - Greeks - come in [to buy] lamb, and all of them know who Frank Sinatra is."
And for people who might only make one or two trips to the garden center, they can also take Russ Beaumonte along with them, on one of several "Classic Golden Oldies" CDs he's made, and which are for sale at Mega Discount Nursery.
Mike Beaumonte says it only makes sense. "I only like to promote quality," he says. "So I have quality meats, quality singing - I would never promote him if he wasn't really, really good."