CLEARWATER — Once or twice a year, Teri Bridenback makes the trek from Jacksonville to Robert's Christmas Wonderland in Clearwater to shop and bask in the yuletide spirit.
"It's so peaceful I could just sit here all day," she said as lights from a thousand bulbs reflected on her sequined blouse.
Whether to sit in the "tree room" and enjoy the music and sights of 150 lit trees, or to stop by for a new piece of Christmas decor, Robert's supplies the requisite seasonal fix.
The 35,000-square-foot store, open all year, is owned by Bob and Rita Frank, 72 and 71, respectively.
"We spend nine months creating the magic in the store so we have it ready for our three-month selling season," Bob said.
Oh what fun shoppers seem to have as they snatch up items for their nativities, trees and front yards.
Robert Franceskino came equipped with a video shot from a drone detailing his elaborately decorated home in Tampa's Westchase community. He was back at Robert's to find a Santa and sleigh to complete the look.
"I come here because I can't find blow molds like these anywhere else," he said.
Blow molds, those lighted plastic figurines, are definitely back in style with people collecting vintage midcentury models and manufacturers producing new ones.
Another vintage comeback: plaid. Robert's has decked out a beige holiday tree with stunning black and red plaid ornaments and plaid poinsettia stems.
Though traditional ornaments and décor abound, the color purple (as well as teal and blue) are the trending big this year.
Energy-saving LED lights are all the rage with more options like sequencing, colors and music being added each year.
"Some are so durable now you can walk on them and they won't break," Bob said.
Laser-cut ornaments, churches and gingerbread houses continue to be big seller at Robert's because of the striking detail that is achievable with lasers.
Themed ornaments for pets, food items, wine, beer and liquor, and the national parks are always a hit. Robert's carries a large selection of global ornaments from countries such as Kenya, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Scotland too.
Trees with molded plastic needles are in style because they look so natural, Bob said. Spinning trees, upside down trees and trees to match every room in the house continue to be fun attention-getters.
Not necessarily new, but a growing trend is for parents to let their child pick out one ornament each year, with the idea they will be given the whole collection when they are grown.
"It's like a little Christmas biography of what was important to them when they went through life," Bob said.
Jaxson Moore, 2, was trying to decide what ornament he would take home — a chocolate-covered cupcake or that of a baseball.
"Cupcake," he said with resolve.
Then he picked out a puppy.
Bob used to be a high school teacher. Rita, a social worker. After relocating from New York and a year of unemployment, they took every penny they had, maxed out their credit cards, and opened their first Christmas shop in Pinellas Park in 1973. A few years later, they opened a second in Tampa. The first two stores have since closed and in 1989, they consolidated operations at the current location, 2951 Gulf to Bay Blvd.
They said what they love most about running the store is the people — from the old-timers who sit and watch the goings-on to the young families, some who bring in a fourth-generation of wide-eyed youngsters.
Even in their 70s, the Franks have no plans for retirement but their son Josh is ready to fill their shoes when the day comes.
"This is our passion, not just a job," Rita said. "We love to see all the smiling faces."
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