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New owners, big changes planned for Rogers' Christmas House Village in Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — The fate of Rogers' Christmas House Village has been in flux for many months. The 37-year-old landmark started by Margaret "Weenie" Ghiotto Rogers has stayed afloat on the hope that someday someone would ride to the rescue.

Matt and Karen Hyde may not have arrived in Brooksville on horseback, but they do have a desire to restore the business to its former glory. And if all goes as planned, the couple said Thursday, they will co-own the Christmas House by the end of the month.

Matt Hyde, 41, said he and his wife were excited about the prospect of revitalizing what he called "a major source of pride to the community."

"People still love coming here," Hyde said. "We want to provide them something that they'll want to come back to for years to come."

The Hydes said they intend to buy the property, which includes the Christmas Village's five houses, an 8-acre parcel in back, plus the historic Scarborough House located on adjacent parcel. Additionally, they will become 49 percent owners of the business, which is owned by longtime Christmas House employee George Rodriguez.

Though the deal won't be finalized until Jan. 29, the Hydes have already committed themselves to doing some much-needed sprucing up. On Thursday, workers were busy taking down a dead tree in the courtyard while a crew of stoneworkers trucked in cut granite for a planned pond and fountain at the entrance.

The couple who recently moved to Hernando County from Alexandria, Va., say their plans for the business include adding a tearoom and a New York style deli. Longer-range plans include the construction of a fine dining restaurant and converting the Scarborough House into an inn.

"I guess it sounds pretty ambitious to a lot of people," said Karen Hyde. "But we wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think the potential for success didn't exist."

Although the Hydes list themselves with the state Division of Corporations as agents for Endeavor Financial & Securities Group LLC, Matt Hyde declined to give specifics on the business. He acknowledged that he had a background in law enforcement, but declined to give details on his role in that job.

"We're private people," he said. "We're here to be involved in a business. That's what matters."

The Hydes said they discovered the Christmas House in December 2004 on a trip to Florida. Collectors of unique Christmas ornaments, they said the learned of the business by way of a billboard on Interstate 75.

"It sounded so interesting, so we decided to check it out," Karen Hyde said. "We were so taken by the charm of the place and the people who ran it. It was just a fantasy, but I told Matt that I'd love to own a place like this some day."

The Hydes admit that they have their work cut out for them in restoring the ailing business to its former prominence. Success will depend on how well they can erase the lingering effects of a 2008 bankruptcy involving former owner Donna Jones.

After buying the business from the Rogers family for $1.5 million in May 2006, Jones, who had never run a retail business before, quickly ran into financial trouble. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Jones surrendered the business back to the Rogers family.

News of the bankruptcy cost the Christmas House dearly. Longtime customers assumed the business had closed, something that Rodriguez says still goes on today.

"We've still fighting battles," said Rodriguez, who took over ownership of the business in May 2008 from Weenie Rogers' nephew, George Weiland Rogers.

Rodriguez said that although he has worked to rebuild some relationships with creditors, he has been unable to muster funds for advertising and promotion of the business. He believes that his new partnership with the Hydes holds great promise.

"They believe in the same things I do," Rodriguez said. "I'm thinking that there are good days ahead. Very good days."

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

New owners, big changes planned for Rogers' Christmas House Village in Brooksville 01/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 8:07pm]
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