Ever Wonder How Holiday-Focused Shops Survive in Summer-Based Economy?
Every year the holiday season starts earlier and earlier, especially in retail. Reese’s Halloween Peanut Butter Bats are still out at the drugstore when the Russell Stover Santa chocolates hit the shelves. Folks who work in these places of business have been listening to Christmas music now for two weeks already … and they’ve got another three weeks to go.
But folks like James Kennard, owner of Bankston’s/December 25th and Jack Julian, owner of YuleTide, both in Beach Haven, as well as Lee LaPelusa, owner of Mistletoe in Haven Beach, don’t mind it.
They hear it 12 months a year.
It’s easy to get swept up in the cheer, candy and sleigh bells this time of year. But for those who aren’t full-time holiday heads, it’s a bit of a mystery how a Christmas-themed retailer can thrive in a place based on a three-month economy.
“For visitors, it’s about collecting a memory of their vacation. They want an ornament that tells a story of LBI to hang on their tree,” says Julian, whose Christmas shop does the bulk of its business in the summer.
It’s a different story at Mistletoe, the holiday-based retailer in the Haven Beach section of Long Beach Township.
“The Christmas season is actually our busiest time. We can customize whatever anyone wants to give as a present, so this is when we do most of our business,” explains LaPelusa.
Julian remembers visiting a store called Under the Mistletoe in Beach Haven for years after it opened in the mid-1980s.
“I molded my store around that. It was the LBI Christmas shop for 25 years. It was an icon,” remembered Julian, “Marilyn Schmidt of Kapler’s Pharmacy opened it and her daughter, Sandy Ciardelli, took it over. They closed after Hurricane Sandy.”
As LBI bounced back from the storm, Julian was considering opening a business on the Island.
“I thought, what does this Island need? Well, it really needed a Christmas shop. Every coastal town on the East Coast has a Christmas shop: Cape May, Wildwood, the Outer Banks. People want to memorialize their beach time with family.”
Julian says the Under the Mistletoe family has always supported him, given advice and endorsed YuleTide to their longtime customers. Once he was established, he enlisted Sondra Sutherland, who had done custom LBI seashell ornaments for Under the Mistletoe to continue the local tradition. He also has a full line of YuleTide LBI candles with regional significance like “Fresh Baked Elephant Ears,” inspired by the Crust & Crumb Bakery pastry at Bay Village.
“My favorite is LBI Christmas Vacation. It has an image of the Shack and smells like country pine and cinnamon. It’s basically Christmas in a jar.”
He also revived the annual official LBI Ball dated ornament, a tradition of Under the Mistletoe. He researched where the ball had been produced and had local artists Jesse Temple paint new artwork. Some folks actually have them reserved ahead of time as they’re usually sold out by July or August.
He was in Bay Village for three years and then moved to Schooner’s Wharf before the 2018 season.
“My goal has always been to transform people from summer vacation to Christmas morning. It’s hot, you’re at the beach wearing flip-flops. You walk in and you hear Christmas in the music. You smell Christmas in the candles and scents. You can taste Christmas. And of course you see Christmas with all the lights and ornaments. It almost freaks some people out,” he laughed.
But despite all that summer love, Julian has to keep the shop humming during this “most wonderful time of the year.” It’s not easy.
“We’re open every day through the holidays, but Beach Haven is a tough sell in the winter. But on the weekends, it can get very busy,” he reported.
Christmas Crafted From Shells
LaPelusa prides herself on being the beach-themed Christmas shop. She has been open for three years.
“People always say they feel so warm when they come in the shop. Even in the summer. You have to make them feel like it’s Christmas. We do custom Christmas trees, Christmas cards, ornaments and mirrors,” she explains. “I’m a shell artist and all of these decorations are made of real shells.”
LaPelusa spends her winters in Sanibel Island, Fla., collecting shells that become ornaments. At any given time, there are 18 to 20 trees in the shop, creatively adorned to different themes and colors. She does have sections of the store for Halloween, specific religious art and an Irish section. She runs down a list of East Coast artists whose hand-made goods she carries: Surf’s Up Candles in Belmar, linens from Maryland, oyster Santas from Pennsylvania, paper ornaments from South Carolina and sand dollars from New York.
Her specialty is one-of-a-kind custom items. This time of year, she gets busy with custom holiday party favors. Outside of Christmas ornaments, she is often hired to create décor for beach weddings.
Mistletoe is open Thursdays, Fridays Saturdays and Sundays through Christmas.
In addition to Yuletide and Mistletoe, there is also December 25th, which is part of Bankston’s, a purveyor of home decor, furnishings, accessories, jewelry and art with locations in Beach Haven and Surf City. Summer has always accounted for 90 percent of December 25th business, but this is the last year for that component of the shop.
“We’ve been on the Island for 20 years as the Bankston’s brand,” says owner Jamaes Kennard. “Our business isn’t going anywhere, but the Christmas shop is closing. We’ll be doing something new for next season.”
The shop’s entire Christmas inventory is 60 to 70 percent off through the season.
At Yuletide, Julian and the Beach Haven business community make great efforts bring people down in December. This year, he is a sponsor of the Surflight Theatre’s production of “Elf,” as he is with the theater’s holiday play each December.
He is a huge proponent of Cookie Wars, a fourth annual event where all of the store owners of Bay Village and Schooner’s Wharf bake cookies. Shoppers taste all the samples and then vote on their favorites on Dec. 8.
“There’s a trophy and bragging rights. And it doesn’t take much to get people to come out when you promise them a free cookie.”
Santa will also be at the shop from noon to 2 p.m. for photos with kids and pets.
On Dec. 15, the Stafford Township Intermediate School Choir will carol at the shop.
And as for the Christmas music?
“I listen to Christmas music year ’round,” laughed La Palusa. “I’m listening to some Christmas piano music in the store right now.”