It's Christmas 361 days of the year at Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan. With more than one hectare under one roof, filled with every conceivable item for the holiday, it promotes itself as the largest Christmas store in the world.
"We have over 50,000 items here," says Bronner's media relations chief, Lori Libka. "Everything from artificial trees, wreaths, garlands, all kinds of lighting, the LED lights, we have ornaments, 8,000 styles of ornaments, about 1,500 of those can be personalized."
She adds the ornaments are the stars of the store: everything from hand-blown glass baubles to sports-themed pieces, and even movie motif ornaments.
Definite favorites are the international ornaments - which makes sense because visitors from more than 100 countries have signed the store’s guestbook. "It’s not unusual to walk around and hear several languages being spoken on any given day this time of year," Libka notes.
More than a shopping trip
Visiting Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland is an experience. At roughly the size of eight Olympic swimming pools, customers need a map to help them navigate the store.
Dazzling lights and outdoor décor cascade from the ceiling, which had to be raised to accommodate taller Christmas tree displays. Old-fashioned Dickens characters, Christmas villages and nutcrackers cover the showroom floor, sharing space with high-tech toys and decorations.
The entire Bronner property sits on 18 hectares, with more than half devoted to buildings for design and storage. There’s also a replica of the Silent Night Chapel from Oberndorf, Austria, a monument to the popular Christmas carol.
Founder Wally Bronner was a teenager when he started a sign painting business. After a businessman asked him to create Christmas signs for the city of Clare, Michigan, he recognized a niche market and in 1945, opened a store specializing in the holiday. Because his faith and family were very important to him, Bronner worked tirelessly to blend the religious meaning of Christmas with the commercial aspect.
He also made sure Bronner’s was a place for customers of all ages to enjoy. That’s why young customers who need a break from shopping can visit with Santa.
One of the Santas who fills the role explains why he takes the job seriously. “I like being at Bronner’s because it gives me a chance to really talk about what Christmas means. I give out one of the little ornaments that has Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus.”
Bronner passed away in 2008, but the store stayed in the family. His widow, Irene, sits at the front reception desk, and his children and grandchildren are now in charge of the business.
It remains a place for kids of all ages to get a little Christmas any time they want.