While there are all types of specialty shops that call Ozark Mountain Country home, there is only one where it’s Christmas all year long.
“If you like Christmas at all, you aren’t going to find many locations like this around the world,” said Mel Bilbo, owner of Kringles Christmas Shop. “I tell people if they have a scrooge in their family, this is the best place for them ... people, when they walk in that front room, tell us they are overwhelmed. That is the word we hear most. It is great any time of year but especially at Christmas.”
Spread throughout four rooms in two different shops at The Grand Village Shops, Kringles features more than 200,000 Christmas items during peak seasons.
Kringles is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013. Bilbo bought the business roughly 10 years ago and has worked hard to uphold the reputation the business built before he took over.
“It started out, and it still is what’s considered not the biggest Christmas store in America, but it is considered the most beautiful,” Bilbo said. “We are very proud of that, and always try to build on that.”
Kringles stocks nearly any item one could think of that has to do with the Christmas season. Nutcrackers, cookie jars, ornaments, large and small Santas, customizable ornaments and hundreds of other items line the shelves.
“We don’t just have items that (people) can find anywhere, we do our best to have something you can’t find at very many places,” Bilbo said. “Be it a $5 or $10 ornament, all the way up to our hand-painted nativity set, which runs about $50,000 for the set.”
While the store sells hundreds of thousands of items each year, a few have separated themselves from the pack as the most popular. Throughout the past few years, customizable ornaments have become the big thing.
“Without a doubt, (customizable ornaments) have become the most popular,” he said. “We have had to branch out so much due to the popularity, and you can literally customize these things for just about any and all family needs.”
Kringles also sells hundreds and hundreds of Santas each year.
“From standard, $20 to $30 off-the-shelf Santas, to some that are as much as $2,500,” he said.
In order to keep the newest and most sought-after items in the shop, Bilbo and staff members attend the nation’s largest buyer’s market twice each year, in January and July, in Atlanta, Ga.
“My wife and I are going to second market in a few weeks,” Bilbo said. “There, we’ll order product we may be wanting to feature, and we’ll also check out the mid-year introductions. In January, we’ll order the majority of the items for the next nine months.”
According to Donna McLarty, manager and chief buyer employee, who has been with the company for 19 years, Bilbo had a grand time during his first trip to market.
“He was a kid in a candy shop during that first trip,” she said. “I kept having to reel him in.”
The store is decorated with dozens of themed Christmas trees, all towering more than 10 feet tall. The themes the trees are decorated in include music, victorian, colors, military, sports, hunting, hobbies, kitchen and more.
“We have a tree themed for just about anything you could think of,” Bilbo said. “The most popular is the red and white peppermint tree, because it is the most traditional.”
The themes are a group decision between Bilbo and the staff, although many of the themes have been around for many years.
“Sometimes the new ones work, and sometimes they don’t,” he said. “We just have to put them out and let the visitors decide.”
Many of the visitors who decide to make purchases can have the items shipped directly to their homes.
“We ship all over the world,” he said.
Most of the shipping is done for those visiting the area who might not have enough room to carry their purchases home. Kringles also offers delayed shipping, and can special order many items.
While Kringles is a Christmas store, it is gearing up for one of the biggest events of the year, the annual Christmas in July sale.
“The busiest months of the year are November, October and July,” he said. “So every year, the last weekend in July (is) always our Christmas in July sale. It’s always a lot of fun.”
Even though Bilbo and his staff eat, drink and live Christmas for nearly 12 months each year, surprisingly, he hasn’t gotten tired of the holiday.
“As crazy as it sounds, most of us don’t get tired of having Christmas every day of the year,” Bilbo said. “As with any business, there are issues and challenges, but you do need to like Christmas. Before we bought this place, my wife and I would put up between eight and 11 trees at our house. It is something special, and Christmas has always held a special place in my heart.”
Kringles Christmas Shop at The Grand Village Shops is open year-round, from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and until 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights. Hours are extended during the fall months. For more information, visit kringles.overcoffee.com, or call 417-337-5426.