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Brooksville's landmark Christmas House closes its doors

BROOKSVILLE — Carolyn Happel, Barbara McMeekin and Carol Westwood thought they had the perfect Friday planned. They would take a nice leisurely drive from Lakeland to Brooksville, stop for lunch at Mallie Kyla's Cafe, then spend the afternoon shopping at Rogers' Christmas House Village.

Lunch was fine. But when the women went to the front door of the Christmas House, they were greeted by a sign that said it was closed due to loss of insurance.

"We're so disappointed. It was going to be our outing," Westwood said as she sat a table with her friends. "And we were going to spend money!"

No one answered the phone at the Christmas House on Friday. A man who answered the door Friday morning, but who declined to identify himself, said that business owner George Rodriguez was in a meeting.

Neighboring shopkeeper Tricia Bechtelheimer said that Rodriguez told her Friday that he could no longer afford the premiums on the store's liability insurance. Bechtelheimer was also told that power had been cut off to the main building because the electric bill had not been paid.

The latest development is another in a series of setbacks for the landmark business, which attracted thousands of visitors and shoppers each year to the collection of holiday decorations and memorabilia.

Rodriguez took over the Christmas House in 2008 after former owner Donna Jones filed for bankruptcy. His efforts to sell the business to Matthew Senge and his girlfriend, Karen Hyde, fell apart earlier this year after the St. Petersburg Times revealed that Senge was a felon, and was using an assumed name.

Senge, 38, was arrested in January on a warrant from Alabama charging that he failed to appear in court in 2006 to answer a theft by deception charge. Senge was on probation in Hernando County at the time on a felony battery charge, and has since been extradited to Alabama, where he is awaiting trial.

In February, Rodriguez told the Times that Senge and Hyde left behind thousands of dollars in unpaid bills, which was causing a strain on his business finances.

George Weiland Rogers, who owns the property on which the Christmas House sits, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

Brooksville's landmark Christmas House closes its doors 04/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 9, 2010 9:36pm]

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