By Marilyn Jones
Frankenmuth, Mich., is best known for its Bavarian architecture, Zehnder’s all-you-can-eat family-style chicken dinners and Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland—the world’s largest Christmas store. Any time of year the city of just under 5,000 is a great getaway destination, but during the holidays this combination will take the Bah Humbug out of any Ebenezer Scrooge.
Settled in 1845 by German Lutheran immigrants from Bavaria, the idea of creating a “little Bavaria” came from architect Ed Beech who was remodeling the Fischer Hotel in the mid-1950s. Other business owners followed suit creating a historic look for the community and ultimately a tourist destination.
The center of this holiday-spirited municipality is Bronner’s with its gargantuan sales floor the size of one and a half football fields. The store is centered on a 27-acre campus landscaped with everything imaginable that would make Santa Claus and all his elves feel right at home. Bronner’s has proven to be such a popular attraction over the years that in 1976 the state designated it an “Embassy for Michigan Tourism.”
When you arrive, you are welcomed by three 17-foot tall Santas and a 15-foot tall snowman. Every evening thousands of lights illuminate Bronner’s half-mile long “Christmas Lane” and a replica of the Silent Night Chapel, where the carol was first sung on Christmas Eve in 1818, is featured. The original chapel is in Oberndorf, Austria.
Founded in 1945 by sign painter Wally Bronner, the original store was developed into the festive shopping complex it is today soon after opening. For Bronner, the journey was about Christ and “decorating hearts with peace and love.” Bronner conducted the day-to-day operations and served on the board until his death in 2008. Today his son Wayne runs the business.
From Christmas ornaments, nativity scenes and trees to strings of lights, collectibles and other holiday decorations, Bronner’s has in stock, at any one given time, more than 600,000 glass ornaments, 530,000 feet of garland and 86,000 light sets. The store offers more than 50,000 different trimmings and gifts
There are nearly 1,000 animated figurines throughout the store, 350 decorated Christmas trees, 100,000 twinkling lights, “Merry Christmas” ornaments in more than 40 languages and 500 different Nativity scenes for guests to enjoy.
Bronner’s makes Christmas as much a destination as it is a holiday.
In addition to size, what makes Bronner’s the world’s largest and most famous Christmas store? For one thing, its customer base—more than two million shoppers and Christmas enthusiasts visit Bronner’s every year, 50,000 the weekend after Thanksgiving alone. The rich and the famous love Bronner’s, too. John Wayne ordered a Santa Claus suit in 1976. Sports figures including race car driver Al Unser, Jr., “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe, Olympic Gold Medalist Dorothy Hamill and Detroit Redwing Sergei Fedorov visited the store. First Lady Laura Bush, former Michigan governors and their families, Ted Nugent, Faith Hill, Marie Osmond, the Lettermen, Dave Coulier and Polly Bergen also paid the store a visit.
And there’s the merchandise selection. About 1,000 figurines comprise Bronner’s Hummel collection and 1,700 Precious Moments. Decorations and gifts from 70 nations can be found at Bronner’s including 150 styles of nutcrackers. More than half the store’s glass ornament inventory is made exclusivity for the mega store.
But, like any commercial endeavor, its employees—always cheerful, and helpful—add an extra special touch to the shopping experience. Bronner’s takes its motto of “decorating hearts and homes with peace and love since 1945” very seriously. Their official motto is “Enjoy CHRISTmas, It’s HIS Birthday; Enjoy Life, It’s HIS Way.”
If you go:
Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, 25 Christmas Lane, Frankenmuth, is open 361 days a year. January to May: Monday- Thursday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m.-5:30 p.m. June to December: Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday 12-7 p.m. Closed: New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For more information and online purchases: bronners.com.
For more information about visiting Frankenmuth: frankenmuth.org.