Possible new owner on horizon for Brooksville's Christmas House Village

BROOKSVILLE — As clouds continue to darken Brooksville's landmark business, there was a faint glimmer of light this week. A new player has emerged with plans to rescue the closed Rogers' Christmas House Village.

Christmas House operator George Rodriguez on Friday said he was approached this week by south Florida businessman Jimmy Knips, who owns the Christmas Palace stores in Hialeah, and Fort Lauderdale.

Knips, he said, was in town this week to look over the beleaguered business, which has suffered through a tumultuous few months including an alleged scam artist trying to take it over and finally being closed on April 9.

"He came and looked around and said he was impressed," Rodriguez said. "He has some good ideas that I think could make the Christmas House successful again."

All of that depends on what kind of deal can be worked out between Knips and Weiland Rogers, who owns the structures housing the business.

Attempts to reach Knips by phone Friday were unsuccessful. Rogers, who currently has the buildings and land listed for $750,000, would only say he had talked with Knips this week. He declined to comment further on the matter.

According to its website, the Christmas Palace stores are year-round businesses that carry items ranging from ornaments and wreaths to fully lit Christmas trees.

Rodriguez closed the 37-year-old business after the power was shut off for nonpayment of the electric bill. He said he is unable to afford to turn it back on. Nor can he to pay for the liability insurance required to allow customers inside the historic five cottages on the east edge of downtown Brooksville.

Last week, he told the Times that if a buyer for the business couldn't be found by June 1, he would liquidate the store's contents.

During its peak period in the 1970s and 1980s the Christmas House drew nearly a half-million visitors a year. However, a series of bad deals and a slumping economy have continued to weaken the business in recent years.

After owner Margaret "Weenie" Rogers Ghiotto's death in 2006, Rodriguez hoped to revive that legacy when he bought the Christmas House in a 2008 bankruptcy court settlement for $10,000.

A failed partnership between Rodriguez, who leases the buildings from Weiland Rogers, and Matthew Senge was a crippling blow. Senge arrived in Brooksville and began making strong overtures to Rodriguez about taking over the iconic business, but the deal fell apart after the Times revealed his real name and criminal history.

Senge is now in custody in Baldwin County, Ala., awaiting trial on a felony theft charge.

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

Possible new owner on horizon for Brooksville's Christmas House Village 04/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 9:22pm]

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