It’s the most wonderful time of the year! For most, that phrase is synonymous with the month of December and the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, but for some niche retailers, the holiday season infuses their daily lives.
Door County is home to three holiday-themed shops – a figure that does not include retailers with dedicated seasonal-decor sections. At ’Tis the Season, Tannenbaum Holiday Shop and Mistletoe Holiday House, you’ll find stunning, year-round displays of meticulously decorated Christmas trees, detailed Nativity scenes and ornaments of all descriptions. There are similarities among the three shops, but the proprietors and their stories are distinctive and rich with a sentimentality that goes hand in hand with the season of Santa, snowmen and “Silent Night.”
’Tis the Season, Egg Harbor
It’s not often that a casual conversation over pizza leads to the purchase of a holiday store, but that’s what happened to Steve and Maggie Young. Living and working in Appleton, they spent numerous years vacationing at The Rushes on Kangaroo Lake, dreaming of eventually retiring in the area. Their annual trips included shopping in Egg Harbor and making a visit to their favorite holiday shop, ’Tis the Season, which was then owned by Tom and Sheri Conley.
While vacationing during the summer of 2012, Steve and Maggie learned that ’Tis the Season was on the way to closing its doors because of the Conleys’ impending retirement. The Youngs were sad that their annual shopping tradition in Egg Harbor would be forever changed. Not wanting to accept this new reality, they asked themselves: What if we were to become the new owners? They pondered the idea over a pitcher of beer and a pizza, and by the last slice, they had a plan to take the leap.
Without a background in retail – much less the subspecialty of holiday-focused retail – they relied on support and guidance from the Conleys during the first season of transition. With the Conleys’ help, the Youngs attended their first Christmas market, where they navigated the eye-popping selection of new products to sell for the coming year. Since then, the couple has made the shop their own, relishing the challenge of predicting each year’s hot sellers.
The specialty item that has become the Youngs’ signature piece is the annual Egg Harbor egg ornament. Each year Steve and Maggie choose three iconic locations in the village to photograph and feature in artist-painted renditions that decorate the exterior of actual eggshells. Complete with a loop for hanging, these egg ornaments have become a collectible for many loyal shoppers.
’Tis the Season is located at 7828 Hwy 42 in Egg Harbor (in the Main Street Shops), 920.868.2829.
Tannenbaum Holiday Shop, Sister Bay
Located on the north end of Sister Bay is Tannenbaum Holiday Shop, housed in a beautiful building that was built in 1879 to be a Lutheran church. Walking through the former church, you can sense the sentimentality that customers return to experience year after year, and Tannenbaum has a magical way of turning a shopping trip into a lifelong memory. Ron and Sue Flittner have witnessed this phenomenon frequently during their 15 years of owning the shop, and it’s one of the reasons they were drawn to the holiday business in the first place.
Having always harbored a passion for holiday decorating, the Flittners bought the store in 2004. Sue admits she’s a decorating fanatic – for Christmas, but also for other holidays such as Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Independence Day. She relishes the tradition of decorating because for her, holidays are times to bring your family together, reflect on years past and savor the time you have together in the present.
“When we get out the ornaments and decorations every year, it’s like unwrapping our cherished memories,” she said.
Now, as full-time residents of Sister Bay and involved business owners, the Flittners are able to provide a very happy place for their fans.
“Many returning customers have really become our friends over the years. We even know when to expect them each year,” Sue said. Many visitors make a special annual trip to select their holiday ornaments and pick out gifts; others are vacationers who choose an ornament to commemorate their family’s time in Door County. Still others stop in for that purely nostalgic feeling.
“Not long ago, we had a woman visit because she had lost her mother earlier in the year, and the store was a place they had both enjoyed together,” Sue said. “She was coming in to revisit those memories together. That’s what has been so rewarding over the years. I’m glad we can be that special place for so many people.”
Tannenbaum Holiday Shop is located at 11054 Hwy 42 in Sister Bay, 920.854.5004.
Mistletoe Holiday House, Egg Harbor
Driving south out of Egg Harbor, you’ll come upon a festive, red-and-green sign that reads, “Mistletoe Holiday House,” with an arrow pointing down a road named Holiday Drive. Don’t be fooled by the quaint, gingerbread storefront, though, because inside the red front door you’ll discover a vast forest of Christmas trees. You half expect to find Santa’s helpers among the evergreens, but instead you’ll find one of two friendly folks who may as well be honorary elves for the amount of spirited effort they’ve invested in this cozy holiday shop.
One is Heidi Meyer, daughter of the original owners, Jan and Dan Lautenbach, who built and opened the store in 1992. The other is current owner Sue Rief, who was first a longtime customer before stepping into the ownership role.
Now in its 30th season, the tradition of offering an astounding array of unusual and tantalizing ornaments – as well as free name customization on those ornaments – has continued. The ornament themes and categories are impressive: from sudoku and poker to hunting and ballet, there’s an ornament to fit almost anyone’s favorite hobby, and you’d be hard pressed to find a pursuit not represented on one of Mistletoe’s trees.
The shop’s charm is evident even as you walk out the door with a purchase. As a way to pay the merriment forward, Rief and Meyer carefully adorn the handle of each customer’s shopping bag with an extra decoration for the tree. Borrowed from the Louisiana French custom of “lagniappe,” this “little something extra” thanks shoppers for their patronage.
Mistletoe Holiday House is located at 5135 Holiday Dr. in Egg Harbor, 920.980.6834.