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Where Christmas spirit is in store

At Rogers' Christmas House Village, it's time for leisurely shopping and browsing, in the spirit of the season.

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published December 23, 2005


photo
[Times photo: Keri Wiginton]
Arline Verkauf of Tampa and her granddaughter, Quinn Costello, 4, look at the Byers Choice Christmas Traditions Carolers display at Rodgers' Christmas House Village in Brooksville on Thursday. "We drove all the way from Tampa to get in the holiday spirit," said Verkauf.

BROOKSVILLE - The front door at Rogers' Christmas House Village opened at 9:30 Wednesday morning, Silent Night started to play, lights twinkled on trees and... um, that's about it.

At this old Brooksville business and Hernando County landmark, where Christmastime is all the time, the week before Christmas is, well, relatively slow, actually.

"Except last-minute stuff," store executive vice president Weiland Rogers said. "There'll be some husbands running in."

"Men shopping for their wives," employee Beth Tarr said. "They say: "Help!"'

Mainly, though, the people who came to the Christmas House on Wednesday did some slow, already-on-break, moseying-about browsing while checking out the stuff that's left after the busier shopping spurts of late November and early December.

This week's speed: less of a frantic scramble, more of the spirit of the holiday.

Amy Paquette came Wednesday morning looking for a fishing pole ornament. The 32-year-old elevator mechanic from Dade City already had bought a fishing pole and tackle box for her boyfriend. But now she wanted a miniature version of her gift so she could wrap that instead and then surprise him.

"You can't be obvious," she said. "You've got to be sneaky."

But last-minute shopping?

No way.

Paquette bought the actual pole and the rest of the gear a good month ago.

Which is when the Christmas House is really busy: the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend and the first couple weeks of December. Rogers said they were doing a third of the business this week that they were doing in weeks earlier this month.

At this point, employee Jo Rainier said, people have bought their decorations, and most of their presents, too, and by now they're buying "vegetables and turkeys and stuff like that."

It's been that way for a long time here.

City Clerk Karen Phillips has called the Christmas House the "jewel of Brooksville." Owner Margaret "Weenie" Rogers Ghiotto started this by selling Christmas collectibles out of a corner of her father's department store in 1970. The business moved to its current site on S Saxon Avenue in 1972.

It's an institution, and as Hernando grows and continues to attract the likes of Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Applebee's, the Christmas House is a throwback too.

Wednesday, folks took their time checking out everything from lights and ornaments to dainty, glass figures and pecan logs the size of a barrel of a baseball bat.

Good friends Andrea Perellman, 47, of St. Augustine and Lisa Cleveland, 50, of Spring Hill had come to the Christmas House after a filling breakfast at Farmer John's.

"I used to bring my son every year," Cleveland said.

Alicia Carrithers, 32, of Phoenix was in the area visiting her grandmother, Lorraine Roberts, who lives in Lacoochee.

"Every time I come here," Roberts said, "something's different."

Those who were there with them hadn't come to buy a bunch of stuff - maybe some stocking stuffers here and there - but more just to soak up some seasonal spirit.

Good thing, too.

Maxine Lovett, a longtime employee, was near a tropical-themed, Floridian Christmas tree, with manatee, starfish and sailboat ornaments - or what was left of them.

"We don't have many of them right now," she said. "Everything's gone."

"Right now, we're very low," fellow employee Diana Rodriguez said. "It's at the end of the season."

Things got busier in the early afternoon. The parking lot was more full.

Inside, Debbie Taylor, 44, of Port Richey and Dianne Henry, 50, of New Port Richey said they've been coming to the Christmas House for 20 years. The best friends like the place so much, and the holiday in general, they said, that sometimes they get overwhelmed and just start crying.

"It's the Christmas stuff, and our friendship," Taylor said. "We're very much kids at heart. This is our favorite thing to do. It's a ritual."

Her eyes began to glisten.

She turned around a bit.

Now her eyes were wet.

"Stop it," Henry teased.

"I know," Taylor said.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.

[Last modified December 23, 2005, 01:13:18]


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