Local businesses celebrate Christmas spirit

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

As Christmas nears and the magic of the season reaches its pinnacle, several local businesses have embraced the holidays as an opportunity to celebrate customers, community and the joy that can be found all around our area.

“In retail, the holiday season has a whole different tone to it,” said Jennifer Raines, owner of Quirks gift shop on Prince George Street. “We have to remind ourselves of the magic.”

The store’s new Colonial Williamsburg location offers something she’s proud of: a vast window for gazing into the shop along a street busy with foot traffic. With that comes the chance to go all out with decorations. The window showcases a massive snowman and his reindeer friend, sparkling gift boxes and hanging ornaments before a flowing tinsel backdrop.

An old-fashioned television sits as the centerpiece, displaying a winter wonderland and offering seasons greetings. Raines recalled the setup process, when her fiance, Steve Rose, saw a young boy checking out the powered-off display; Rose turned the TV on, and the accompanying lights and music earned a reaction of pure excitement from the child.

“It’s just fun, and we like it,” Raines said. “It’s that feeling of wonder and magic.”

Inside, the store is filled with elves, Christmas trees and no shortage of holiday-themed gift ideas. Manager Kendra Law said bigger businesses often use Christmas as a sales tactic.

“But we’re just happy to spread sparkle and cheer and have fun,” she said.

Customer Danielle Stein appreciated the efforts.

“They’re kind of like fun decorations you don’t get to put up because you’re busy with life,” she said. “It’s not only for the businesses themselves but for the community.”

The Williamsburg Lodge sits on the other side of Colonial Williamsburg. The establishment previously celebrated the holidays with a miniature gingerbread village in its lobby, but general manager Cole Wallace and his culinary team envisioned something bigger this year.

That vision required 50 pounds of gumballs, 150 pounds of icing and 350 pounds of gingerbread. The result: a life-size gingerbread house across from the front desk.

“It’s just about bringing in the holiday cheer,” Wallace said. “We want people to feel welcome.”

He said families enjoy taking pictures alongside and inside the house, and although children can’t devour the house like they might be inclined, there’s candy inside to satisfy those with a sweet tooth. People can write their names on the ledger inside, deciding for themselves if they’ve been naughty or nice.

A maintenance crew assembled a wood frame and the culinary crew used real, edible ingredients to construct the rest of the walk-in gingerbread house, complete with a chimney made of chocolate rocks. The process took 320 hours of work, which began over the summer and concluded with the finished structure Nov. 25.

“It was a lot more intricate than we thought,” head chef Justin Madison said. “I hope it gets (visitors) into the holiday spirit.”

Lodge guest Antoinette Jewell said she admired the crew’s dedication, adding the house complements the previous weekend’s snowy weather and Williamsburg’s overall festive atmosphere.

“It’s quite something. It’s enchanting,” she said. “I love Christmas. Everyone loves Christmas. I wish we could enjoy it all year-round, but then we might not enjoy it so much.”

All across town

Within Williamsburg Crossing Shopping Center, Victoria’s Restaurant co-owner Doris Bryant expresses her love for the season in her own way. Bryant fell in love with “The Nutcracker” while attending Virginia Intermont College in Bristol when her suitemate performed the ballet with Bristol Concert Ballet.

“I was so moved by the dancers. I became enamored then,” Bryant said.

Bryant received her first nutcracker as a gift while working as an art teacher in the 1980s. After 30 years of collecting nutcracker figures, she owns more than 300. This holiday season, 283 such figures of numerous sizes and origins line her restaurant’s walls and banisters, and they also adorn tables as centerpieces — rotated often so the regular customers with favorite tables get a different experience each time.

It’s a seasonal effort customers have come to expect since Bryant began the tradition four years ago; now, some of them place reservations specifically for the first day they’re on display in mid-November. She also launched a raffle with nutcracker-themed prizes to benefit Heritage Humane Society.

“It has evolved into this,” Bryant said. “Now the customers adore them. The children are fascinated. Seeing the children’s eyes, it’s magic.”

In addition to numerous nutcracker gifts, she’s purchased plenty at chain retailers and small businesses whenever one caught her attention. Some portray traditional toy soldiers, while others represent shepherds, golfers, snowmen, a mouse king, a West Point cadet, even Pinocchio with interchangeable noses. Some needed to be restored, at which point her art teacher background proved handy.

Several customers expressed their appreciation for Bryant’s decorations.

“I couldn’t get over it when we got in here,” said Carol Welch, eager to bring her granddaughter along next time. “I’ve never seen so many. It’s a beautiful discovery.”

Near Busch Gardens, Santa and his sleigh sit atop Doraldo Restaurant, an Italian establishment inside the Village Shops at Kingsmill. Inside, Christmas classics such as “Here Comes Santa Claus” serenade diners in the background. Numerous Christmas trees, including a large white one that appears as if draped in snowfall, fill the dining rooms. Christmas village sets shine throughout the restaurant, reindeer fly near the ceiling and numerous other small touches lend to a yuletide atmosphere.

“Everywhere you see something, and every year, we start doing more,” said owner Charlie Messina, who might add a snow machine next year. “I’ve always loved Christmas. I saw not many restaurants were doing that.”

The restaurant’s festivities started simply with Christmas trees and evolved as people reacted positively. On weekends, the staff dress as elves while Messina dons a Santa outfit.

“It’s very special, especially in this day and age,” said Jinny Morrison, who brought a friend along to check out the decorations, including the religious iconography. “I came back now because it was such a wonderful time. I don’t think anyone else could do it like this.”

Messina said the efforts help encourage repeat customers, but there’s motivation beyond the bottom line: Worries about work and the world at large can fade away, and childrens’ pure love of the season can serve as inspiration for the rest of us.

“There is so much going on in the world,” he said. “When they’re in here, they’re going to enjoy the holidays.”

That’s a common thread throughout all holiday happenings, as excitement stems from memories of cozy Christmas mornings spent with family and experiences one can only find during this time of year.

Back at Victoria’s, Bryant said that whatever holidays one might or might not celebrate, the season itself is all about love.

“You can’t argue with the word. It’s universal,” she said. “Lay down your differences and laugh and do something good for somebody.”

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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