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Store Lights Up for Christmas

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer</i>

Nobody heads for Tampa at Christmas time for the warmth of a cozy fire on a snowy day. Nevertheless, this town has its own warming Christmas glow.

Tampa simply lights up for Christmas. Public places get fabulous, glittering decorations and so do homes, so that the town is a wonderful Christmas spectacle.

A lot of the trimmings, animated figures and all sorts of specialty items used in these decorations come from Rogers Christmas House, a shop with such utter charm and good cheer that Santa himself might decide to move in when he tires of the chill of the North Pole.

Huge Collection

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In addition to charm and cheer, Rogers Christmas House has one of the world’s largest and most unusual collections of Christmas decorations and accessories. They’re all for sale, at prices ranging from a dollar or two to thousands of dollars.

There’s a special seasonal something for everyone. Merchandise comes from 55 countries. Tree decorations include Old World Christmas angels for $3; sand dollars with Christmas decals for $3 to $6; musical instruments, Santas, reindeer, stars, bears and other animals for $2.50 and up, plus iridescent icicles and balls, spider webs, snowflakes and white doves.

The assortment of Christmas tree lights ranges from blinkers in several colors and heart-shaped lights to chili pepper lights ($8 and up per string of 12 lights).

For under the tree or above the mantle there are miniature houses that light up ($12 each) and entire miniature towns with city, farm or Alpine buildings (five pieces for $60) or a seven-piece Dickens village ($165).

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For the front door or to adorn the dining room you’ll find elaborate wreaths including the “Della Robbia” wreath with angels and lace ($175), the English wreath of silk flowers and lace ($250) and the Victorian wreath with fruit and ribbons ($75).

Many Accessories

Assorted Christmas accessories range from an exceptional selection of cards to village mugs ($4.50) and china by Spode (five pieces for $40), Cuthbertson (five pieces for about $35) and Fitz & Floyd (five pieces for $70).

There are dolls that sing Christmas carols ($198), old-fashioned porcelain dolls for decoration ($240), angel and Santa dolls ($50) and Italian nativity scenes ($80). And an especially delicious pecan rum cake ($8.50) is wrapped as a gift and ready to be sent anywhere in the world. There’s also a vast selection of unusual stocking stuffers.

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When you arrive you walk across the porch of a turn-of-the-century house and are greeted at the front door by a delightful elderly woman who fits central casting’s prototype of Mrs. Santa. She’s been working at the Christmas House since it opened in 1972. She’ll hand you a nibble of rum cake and a cup of cider and explain what’s inside.

Walk through the front door and you’re in a winter wonderland, a glittering white room filled with white Christmas trees, white lights and white decorations. There are angels and dolls, wreaths and snowflakes, sleighs and fans, creches and candles. And lots of white fabric draped to suggest snow.

What started as a single Christmas House in 1972 has grown into a Christmas Village with five Disneyesque houses and a surrounding garden. Some of the areas look like Christmas sets for TV shows. “Family Ties,” “Dallas,” even “Alf” could find appropriate rooms.

There are theme rooms decorated for sportsmen, stock brokers, astronauts or professors, and theme trees decorated Victorian style with fruit and nuts, English-manor-house style with silk roses and lacework, or with Alice in Wonderland or Wizard of Oz decorations. Some color themes range from traditional red and white to trendy turquoise and amethyst.

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Throughout the houses you’ll find unusual items and decorative touches. The rooms have such charm that customers have on occasion hired the Rogers staff to go home with them to set up duplicates. Other people buy all the necessaries to duplicate a specific Rogers tree, or just pick and choose to augment their own collection of decorations.

OK, trivia buffs, there are Christmas shops in every American city, but is Rogers Christmas House the nation’s only Christmas village? No. There are others in Frankenmuth, Mich. and Manteo, N.C.

Was Rogers the first Christmas House? Mrs. Margaret Rogers Giotto, founder and owner of Rogers Christmas House, says when she started her place she knew of no others.

Now that Rogers Christmas House is world-famous and a financial success, Mrs. Giotto fields requests for franchises. That idea doesn’t appeal to her.

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“This is a labor of love,” she says. “We like our customers to come here and to have personal relationships with them. It’s like having a huge, happy Christmas family.”

Rogers Christmas House is in Brooksville, a Tampa suburb. Tampa tour buses stop there when Mrs. Giotto gives them permission, but you’re better off with your own car. Getting there is easy. Take U.S. 41 to Saxon, then turn left to Liberty. You can’t miss it; there are about 15 signs along the road.

You can also drop by from Disney World, which is about 65 miles away. The address is 103 Saxon Ave., or call (904) 796-2415. Rogers Christmas House is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year . . . except Christmas.


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