How happy are the holidays? So happy that many Christmas stores across the United States operate year-round. For this article, shop staff and owners described how their cheer-giving business has changed due to the pandemic, and discussed their top display tips and current best-sellers.
At City Lights Collectibles in San Diego, Calif., Manager Brian Young said that business is currently “back to normal,” despite a seven-week closure when the pandemic began. “It’s been a slow build back up, but our online business is enormous anyway. We have a five-man shipping department normally, but it grew during the pandemic.” Young noted that with a whopping 27,000 square feet of store space, concerns about limiting the number of in-store shoppers were virtually non-existent. “We could easily handle the guidelines of how many people could be in the store at any one time. We never had a problem there,” he attested.
Display is focused on a number of different styles. “We have 28 decorated trees, 72 ornament racks, 11 other displays, and a department consisting of 56 Villages that is 240 square feet all year.” Displays are created by two full-time in-store decorators and designers, and displays are changed up in full once annually, he said.
Best-sellers are “very seasonal,” Young reported. “During the actual Christmas season, our biggest sales are foliage, artificial trees, and décor. This time of year, we are more gift and collectibles, elves, angels, seashell ornaments, and ornaments that feature things like surfing, snorkeling, all the themes which appeal to tourists in our area.”
In Manteo, N.C., Patricia Lassen, manager of The Christmas Shop, has added additional shopping options for customers during the pandemic. “We added curbside pick-up and mail order options that can be easily done on our website,” she said. “We’re going to continue doing the mail order long-term, because that has done really well for us, and if people want curbside, we’ll definitely do that. We also use Facebook and Instagram to display our items more now than before the pandemic, she added. “We had a lot of Instagram Live videos up during the height of the pandemic, but we don’t use those as much now.”
Design and display are very important in the vast 30,000-square-foot The Christmas Shop. According to Lassen, “We all pretty much chip in, but our owner does a lot of display as does our assistant manager, Sheila Hinkle; they have a real flair for it. Our owner decorates all the trees.” She explained that the shop places some but not all ornaments on the trees, and the displays are changed in full approximately every six months. Best-sellers for the store include “Karen Didion Santa figures that are collectibles, and anything coastal themed, such as lighthouse ornaments and seashells. They sell well because of our location, and the Santa figures do well because they are so unusual.”
Dieter Rausch, owner of The Christmas Sleigh, Inc. in Middleburg, Va., described his best-sellers as all being extremely unique. The authentic German Christmas shop carries many handmade German and Austrian collectables, from ornaments such as Austrian painted Christmas eggs and Wiener bronzes to German pyramids. “While everything you can think of for and about Christmas you will find in my store, my ‘Smoking Man’ is always very popular. He’s a wooden figure that contains incense, which leaves his mouth. He sells well because he is so unique and different, you can’t find him at all in most Christmas stores,” Rausch attested. The smoker figure was first created in 1850 and comes in a variety of themes, from Santa Claus and chimney sweep, to baker and countless others.
To display his unique collection of merchandise, Rausch said all staff members in his 1,000-square-foot shop, including himself, work on that. “Glass items you put on the trees, the wooden items on a shelf. When I’ve sold an item, I know to restock it and where to replace it. We continually replace and design our displays. When I have a good weekend, by Monday morning, I am glad to do that if we have an empty shelf. That is my dream,” he laughed.
Jule Hus has been in business for 53 years, and the Solvang, Calif., shop is still offering the merriest of Christmas merchandise to its shoppers, according to Paula Cookenour, who handles sales and display at the store, and has herself been a part of the store for 30 years. And even a pandemic can’t dampen the cheerful tone the store sets for shoppers.
“We do have a few hours a day where we offer pick-up, but really the only major change we have made is asking people to wear masks, and most people have given us great cooperation. We also have what we call “hand santa-izing” in the store for our customers, and as a part of our very careful and proficient cleaning,” Cookenour explained. “We try to be gracious to the customer, and if they want us to bring a package out front, and have already paid for it over the phone, we can work that out.” While the store was closed during the pandemic for a few months, no online model was created. Instead, the store simply reopened when allowed with signage on the wall about masks and social distancing. “We try to keep the store light and happy. It is known for being a fun and cheerful place, and that’s how we want to keep it.”
That experience translates into the store’s display as well. “We do not use wall racks. We have some Christmas trees, and we have some hanging on half trees suspended on the wall. Those are all themed. But for the most part, we display using layered tables with trays of ornaments, as well as two turn-style racks that we have resin ornaments displayed on. We would never display our authentic European glass that way.” Lassen explained that other than working to alleviate any challenges with breakage, all areas sell well and are always themed to a specific type of ornament. Cookenour elaborated, “Right now we have a candy and cookies-themed tree, a patriotic tree, those are the types we use. That way, when someone asks for help finding a kind of ornament, we can lead them to a specific destination. We don’t have to walk all around the store unless someone wants something vague, like an undescribed cat ornament, and then we have to remember where all the different types of cat ornaments might be.”
She added that the only area that changes throughout the year in full is the front window. “There we change themes frequently. We just changed it to Easter, with egg ornaments and things like that. After the time for a seasonal display passes, we replace the items around the store by area. That window changes every three or four months, but not on a regular schedule.”
At the Snow and Ice Christmas and Gift Store in Harrisonburg, Va., Owner Dustin Kline related that his top-sellers are themed ornaments, ornaments with names on them, and Department 56 villages. “The villages have been popular for a while now, and the ornaments with names have always been pretty much my number-one seller,” Kline stated. “The themed ornaments that do well for us tend to relate to personal interests, whether its soccer or farming, new babies, just-married couples, or right now, cardinals. It’s cardinal season here, and we have had a stronger, snowier winter, so people come in and talk about how beautiful it is to see them again. They’re our state bird as well, so both contribute to them being popular right now.”
Kline does much of the display work in the store himself, taking turns with his sister. “We do not use a lot of trees; we are kind of the opposite of most Christmas stores. When we fill our trees with ornaments its counterintuitive for us; they don’t sell as well.” He noted that “My customers tend to find the items easier if they are hanging on hooks on the wall, where they can view them all by categories such as farm animals, cardinals, what have you, more easily. We do some themed trees for show, but as far as selling the ornaments, they do better for us on hooks and racks.”
And as far as pandemic changes go, Kline said, “We have been doing more social media and some curbside pick-up, but we do not have an online store set up yet. We have been getting some sales through Facebook and by phone, and we are hoping to get an online store going.” However, he explained that “The volume of items we have, thousands and thousands of ornaments, honestly the workload to get those less expensive items onto the website and photographed is so great that moving in that direction is a very slow process.”
Regardless of the type of display technique used or the most popular holiday products, Christmas stores nationwide continue to put some ho-ho-ho into shopping, even in pandemic times. It appears that Santa has adjusted very well to wearing a facial mask when necessary.