Kraynak’s Christmasland draws visitors from around the world

Desnise Wright

Free display offers decoration ideas for the winter holidays

For most people, Christmas preparations come in November or December — whenever the cookie-baking, gift-buying and holiday decorating begins. But for the staff at Kraynak’s in Hermitage, Pa., preparations for Christmasland begin as early as the January before.

Kraynak’s is open year-round and sells seasonal items. But Christmasland, one of their most popular attractions, is the store’s annual display of decorated trees and new Christmas decorations for the year.

Store manager Dan Zippie said because new Christmas products are always coming out, the 300-foot display is custom-made each year.

“We start going to trade shows and getting ideas for decorating as early January or February,” Zippie said. “The summer is when we actually set up our display for Christmas.”

Zippie said Kraynak’s employees, including a team of designers who coordinate the display, spend July putting up the backdrops and setting up more than 100 trees for the display. August is dedicated to decorating the trees and putting in knick-knacks and other finishing touches before the display opens in September.

And once the display does open, complete with Christmas music, blinking icicles, animated figurines galore, and even the smell of gingerbread and pine, there’s a steady stream of patrons rushing in to experience it.

Zippie said the display has grown far beyond its humble 1960s beginning — when it featured 10 artificial trees in a greenhouse — to the family tradition it has become today.

Suzette Senchak, a resident of New Castle, Pa., said she brings her daughters Kierstyn and Tessa Runninger to the store’s Christmasland and Easter Bunny Lane displays every year.

“It’s a tradition; I always take the girls,” Senchak said. “You gotta love this.”

And it’s apparent her daughter Tessa does as she stops to gasp at an animated Rudolph’s blinking red nose and later cries out “Purple!” and runs over to examine a heavily-decorated purple tree.

But the display attracts more than just young audience members.

Christmasland goers Michelle and Jenna Burk of Columbus say they’re in town to visit their aunt Joy Renshaw, who is a resident of Sharon, Pa. And, of course, while they were in town they had to visit Christmasland.

“It’s just become a tradition,” Renshaw said. “It’s fun, and it really puts you in the spirit.”

Zippie said he’s aware of the draw the display has.

“Every year the interest seems to escalate,” he said. “We reach a good 100-mile radius with cities like Cleveland, Akron and Pittsburgh nearby … One year we put out a sign-up book, and we literally had visitors from every state in the U.S. as well as some European countries.”

Sure, the display’s lack of admission price probably has something to do with it.

“The display began as a free place for customers to come and get ideas from the trees and everything we sell for the holidays,” Zippie said. “We just tried to stay with that same tradition.”

So besides being free to the public, what is the appeal of Christmasland?

“It’s one of the few places families can come and get this kind of detailed display,” Zippie said. “It’s really become a destination during the holiday period.”

Contact features reporter Denise Wright at [email protected].