By Amberrose Hammond
If you grew up in Michigan, chances are you made one, or many, family trips to Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland. It was the mid-1980’s when I made my first voyage to the Mecca of holiday decorations. I remember the visual assault of millions of Christmas lights bedazzling every inch of the building inside and out. Reindeer, penguins, Santa Clauses and some animatronic elves, stiffly moved their robot limbs on sparkling displays towering above the endless merchandise. It seemed like miles of glittery ornaments, lights, trees, dolls, Santas and baby Jesus’. According to Bronner’s website, there are “more than 700 whimsical, animated and fiberglass figurines [to] enchant guests in the salesroom.” That’s awesome, yet slightly disturbing for those types who find riding It’s a Small World at Disney World disconcerting.
This was obviously not a toy store, but I was transfixed. I was young and I hadn’t questioned the existence of Santa Claus yet, so naturally, I understood this place to be one of his many business properties. We people living in Michigan were just lucky enough to be home to Santa’s biggest and brightest endeavor. Literally. Bronner’s daily electric bill is over $1200. No thanks.
Bronner’s is just on the outskirts of adorable downtown Frankenmuth, the “Little Bavaria,” of Michigan. Everything in Frankenmuth is cute and touristy. You can walk into stores named, “The Cheese Haus” or make the hard decision of whether to eat at Zehnder’s, or the Bavarian Inn. Both offer their famous chicken dinners, served family style. But don’t worry, there’s no real competition between the two iconic restaurants – they’re owned by the same family.
Frankenmuth was founded by German settlers in 1845 and is also the home of another Michigan record — the oldest beer brewery in the state (and almost the U.S.) with the Frankenmuth Brewery, founded in 1862. The oldest brewery in the United States is actually Yuengling founded in Pennsylvania in 1829. They only have us beat by 33 years.
Walley Bronner opened his first Christmas shop in Frankenmuth in 1945 to fast success and over the years, continued to expand until the family purchased the current property and opened their massive new space in 1977, making it officially the world’s largest Christmas store. They even feature a small Halloween section now. (When is someone going to create the world’s largest Halloween store open all year? Ahem…any business partners out there?)
At over 6,000 ornaments alone to choose from, there’s literally something for everyone and every taste at this place. If you want nothing but food decor on your tree, Bronner’s can make that happen. If you were struggling to pick out what kind of Nutcracker to buy, don’t worry, they will make it extra difficult by offering you 150 varieties to pick from. Put the word “strange” into their website search bar and an alien ornament shows up. Perfect. There’s even stuff for us weirdos out there.
The store sits on 27 acres and the present showroom is 1.7 football fields in size. Section numbers hanging above you are helpful when the person you are shopping with gets separated from you and then has to call you on your phone to try and figure out where you are. I can personally attest to that statement.
Having been around for over 70 years, there doesn’t seem to be a family in Michigan without an ornament on their Christmas tree from Bronner’s. When I help decorate my grandma’s Christmas tree, many of her ornaments are still stored in their original white cardboard Bronner’s boxes, now turning soft and frail from decades of age. Each box holds a group of ornaments that have a story. Polka Festivals, anniversaries or just a trip with the kids over to Bronner’s. The ornaments are now family heirlooms I would never think to get rid of and I hope to carry on the Michigan tradition of trips to Frankenmuth for ornaments, chicken dinners and getting lost among the shiny treasures and memories that fill Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.
Have a Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland memory? Comment below.