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Brooksville not ready to give up on Rogers' Christmas House Village

Now that the "closed'' signs have been taped to windows of Rogers' Christmas House Village, it's tempting to think maybe they should stay there.

We know, after all, that the Christmas House's tinsel wreathes, ornaments and figurines can be found a lot cheaper on the Internet.

We know the buildings are rotting and that, before a recent cleanup, weeds were taking over the grounds.

We know that the people involved in the business since the death of founder Margaret "Weenie'' Ghiotto in 2006 have been accused of theft and fraud, and/or haven't had enough capital to pay bills, and/or were not exactly bursting with ideas to turn the place around. That is enough to make us suspect that no smart, serious business person would want to take over the Christmas House, and that no bank would loan them money if they did.

So, maybe, the Christmas House's time has finally come, like an old dog that needs to be put out of its misery. Because watching a golden retriever with advanced hip dysplasia couldn't be half as painful as watching con man Matthew Senge trample on Ghiotto's legacy.

Still, I don't think Brooksville can give up on the Christmas House. Not yet.

Of course, the Christmas House will never be what it once was, a draw for so many visitors that the spillover helped the entire town.

There may be enough customers for one Christmas House, but not a village of five of them. The other four buildings could be turned into ice cream shops or clothing stores.

The owners of these outlets could pay rent to a nonprofit agency if enough money could be raised to buy and fix up the property.

Sound familiar? That's because last fall, Michael Heard and Dennis Wilfong, who are volunteering to drum up investment in the city, suggested this as the best long-term fix for the Christmas House.

Then Senge came along as a prospective buyer and they dropped their plan. Now, unless someone can come up with something better, it's probably the best idea out there. Because if the Christmas House can't make it as a business, which sure seems to be the case, it's time for the city to consider it a community project.

There's no guarantee this will work, of course. Heard said she and Wilfong are still forming a nonprofit agency to bring investment to Brooksville, and she desperately wants to save the Christmas House. But the city has plenty of other needs, too.

The Senge disaster didn't make it any more attractive for contributors. Neither does the messy ownership situation. George Rodriguez, who closed the doors last week, owns the business and inventory. He's at odds with Weiland Rogers, who owns the buildings and has them listed for $750,000.

But Heard's old plan is worth a try because visitors who enter Brooksville from the east are now greeted with a view of closed-up gas stations, vacant storefronts and the peeling paint and boarded-up windows of the historic Saxon House near E Jefferson Avenue.

This decay will only spread if the Christmas House shuts down, meaning the city might not only lose its onetime main attraction, but it might also lose the few nearby businesses, such as Mallie Kyla's Cafe, that still draw people downtown and that Brooksville needs more than ever.

Brooksville not ready to give up on Rogers' Christmas House Village 04/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 8:23pm]
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