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The season's biggest fans

A decorating trend is taking shape this year: Wind-fed sentinels of holiday cheer. More and more people are decking their yards.

By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 18, 2005

[Times photo: Lara Cerri]
'Twas a week before Christmas and in New Port Richey, Santa's waving at cars by a front yard's palm tree.

They often spring to life as darkness falls.

Sometimes they stand as lone sentries in a front yard. Sometimes they are surrounded by other attractions.

The inflatable Christmas figures are popping up in yards all over the Tampa Bay area, with nearly every neighborhood featuring at least one oversized Santa or snowman or harness of reindeer.

"I think more people should get them," said St. Petersburg resident Freddie Fussell, 61, who bought his 8-foot-tall Santa earlier this month. It takes only 30 seconds to inflate fully. "My wife liked it. It livens things up."

In the Hillsborough County community of Valrico, Santa and Frosty wave from inside a snow globe on Susan Powell's front yard.

She bought the globe to provide a focal point for her yard and to amuse her children.

She said her two children delight in the snow globe, as do drivers on her street, Durant Road.

"I wouldn't have bought it if we didn't have little kids," Powell said.

The prices range from about $12 for a 2-foot high decoration to more than $250 for the largest displays. Most of the inflatables aren't airtight. An electric fan blows air into them to keep them upright. Manufactures suggest many models be kept blown up for no more than eight to 12 hours at a time.

Stakes, rope and wires can help keep them from toppling over. Even the biggest ones tuck away into a small box for storage.

Tim Rosario, owner of buyinflatables.com, the largest online retailer and wholesaler of blowup decorations, said he has sold three times as many inflatables as last year. Snoopy and Sesame Street characters remain the most popular, he said.

"The inflatables cost less to operate than lighting your house," Rosario said.

Robert's Christmas Wonderland on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater began stocking inflatables for the first time this year, said store manager Josh Frank. The store already has sold out of some of the displays, including a 12-foot Santa.

"The ones we put on display sell very quickly," he said.

The nationwide trend has spawned an air-blown inflatables club airblownclub.com run by Oklahoma resident Jason Jones, the self-proclaimed "King of Holiday Inflatables." (www.kingofholidayinflatables.com)

Jones owns inflatables to celebrate nearly every American holiday. Leprechauns for St. Patrick's Day, flags for the Fourth of July, football players for the Super Bowl. And, of course, dozens of snowmen, Santas, reindeer and candy canes for Christmas.

"To the people that hate them, what's there to hate?" Rosario said. "Their hearts obviously aren't big enough for Christmas."

Times Staff Writer Helen Anne Travis contributed to this report. Graham Brink can be reached at brink@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 18, 2005, 01:01:21]


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