The Shops of Christmas

A holiday display ay Marders in Bridgehampton.

The warmth and glow of the holiday season evokes sentiments of nostalgia and cheer. Main Street stores and tucked-away shops with holiday music are particularly inviting when seeking shelter from the winter cold. While November marks the time to prepare for home decorating and planning, many shops begin readying for another season the moment one ends. Owners share what the magic of the holidays mean to them through their own creations and designs meant to instill a sense of wonder for those who walk through the door.

Jamesport Country Store is a brick building with seemingly more stock than room inside. Antique wares populate the exterior and a vintage truck sits in the parking lot; a recognizable stop along Main Road. Christmas is always present in the shop with vintage glass ornaments available year-round. Owner Howie Waldman, who travels to various shows and flea markets looking for items to sell in the store, says they begin seriously decorating right after Halloween.

“It’s always in the works,” Waldman explains. “We sell a lot of vintage Christmas items and show it all year-round. Usually red, green and blue vintage glass ornaments. We make a massive display throughout the store with six to seven Christmas trees donning the ornaments.”

Waldman’s mother opened the store in 1973, making this its 46th season. This year, there are a lot of vintage paintings of winter scenes of villages and people ice skating, mostly in watercolor or oil. As he shared his particular design style, he was preparing for another buying trip to Massachusetts and Vermont. Though the store specializes in antique and vintage, Waldman showcases works from North Fork artisans that bring various gift-worthy items in during the holidays, like a mini creation of the Flanders duck with a wreath around it as an ornament.

Christmas is, as for many shop owners, a favorite time of year for Waldman. Inspiring customers with vintage designs on looming trees, tables and shelves packed with unique finds and local favorites. He enjoys decorating and welcoming people into the shop. “I love the pageantry of Christmas, but especially the music,” he beams. “It sounds corny, but it’s my favorite.”

East Hampton Gardens decorated for the holidays.

When asked if holiday decorating is something he enjoys, Michael Giannelli can only laugh with one word, “Obsessed!” Owner of East Hampton Gardens, his approach to the holidays extends from his home and reaches far outside of the shop. Last year’s design was a woodland Christmas with a single tree, but this year the epicurean theme will include two tabletop trees and a large white tree adorned with traditional handblown glass in a variation of different styles like cookies, candy and gingerbread houses.

At home, Giannelli and his partner, interior designer Greg Shanow, do a very traditional Christmas. “My partner and I collect vintage Christmas ornaments and give each other a box each year on Christmas Eve,” he says. “Our tree is incredibly festive with tons of lights and ornaments. It’s almost encrusted in these sentimental and heirloom ornaments.”

To bring a piece of home into the shop, white frosted vintage ornaments will be included in the decorations. Planning begins in January and February, and the trees will go up right before Halloween. If Giannelli had it his way, he’d start decorating in August.

“The store becomes a winter wonderland,” Giannelli shares. “We do a real forest outside where people can pick trees, as well as garlands and wreaths. Last year was our first introduction into the neighborhood and we found so many people were missing that element of true holiday gifting and décor. We wanted to develop a new family tradition. The Friday through Sunday after Thanksgiving we do a great event where Santa comes. People take their holiday pictures for cards. It’s becoming something in the town.”

Giannelli noticed there were not a lot of services on the East End for helping people decorate their homes for the holidays. Capitalizing on his strong passion for Christmas, East Hampton Gardens launched a “Home for the Holidays” service where he curates a client’s home for Christmas, working through various themes and bringing holiday visions to fruition.

Getting in the holiday spirit at Topiaire in Southampton.

By creating vignettes within the store, Erin Hattrick Meaney of Topiaire in Southampton hopes to show customers inside the shop how they can decorate their own homes for the holidays. Colorful villages with a white shimmer to reflect snow are nestled in with families of crystal deer, sparkling little trees, shiny baubles and of course, fresh flowers. Even gifts that are not holiday driven, like signs with cheeky sayings, are wrapped in plaid bows and Christmas greens.

“The greatest thing about Topiaire is that I buy everything I love,” Meaney laughs. “It’s decorated with things for sale. Other than trimming the building in white lights, everything is for sale.”

One of the most important parts of Meaney’s decorating and gifting is being able to offer items that are $25 or under. It’s the threshold for many, especially for office holiday parties, Secret Santas and for extended family.

Meaney begins buying merchandise for the holidays in August, items come in during September and October and decorating begins shortly after. For fresh flowers, paperwhites are a Christmas favorite, complementing gold and illuminated décor. Magnolia is particularly popular for wreaths and garlands, intertwined with fragrant evergreen, earth tones and pops of color like red or blue.

“It’s my favorite time of year,” Meaney shares. “My mom always decorated our house. Dolls, figurines, light up old fashioned houses, lots of retro things. It reminds me of my childhood. It was a big deal so for me it’s like a nostalgic feeling of creating a happy, warm and exciting environment.”

Nostalgia is a strong influencer for Meaney. She enjoys curating the store with things that will remind people of their childhood. Retro is a particularly strong trend with old decorative houses in turquoise and pink with a style of the ’50s and ’60s.

A holiday display at The Wharf shop in Sag Harbor.

The Wharf Shop in Sag Harbor favors the traditional Christmas with red backgrounds for displays, green garlands around the shop and twinkly lights wherever they can fit. Window displays are packed with toys and gifts, offering suggestions for Christmas and Hanukkah presents for children of all ages. One corner in particular is transformed with ornaments, English Christmas crackers and musical holiday toys.

“One of our favorite things about this time of year is welcoming back customers who have moved away, but return to celebrate the holidays with their families,” co-owner Gwen Waddington shares. “The grown kids who bring their own kids in, or the college students coming home after a semester away, they each want to relive their Wharf Shop memories and say ‘hi’ to familiar faces.”

As a landscaping company, Marders is often inspired by the earth. Their garden shop is somewhat of a whimsical fairyland that becomes enchanted for the holiday season. Large but cozy, the space debuts each year with an open house. Once it ends, planning for the next year begins immediately.

“We discuss and document what worked, what didn’t,” Kathleen Marder explains. “We also get our ideas from our customers, what they really liked and commented on. We get our orders for all products ready for the next open house by the end of the year. It is very exciting and a lot of fun. The whole company gets involved in one way or another.”

Holidays at Marders have become a family tradition not just for the employees, but other families as well. Many have shared the open house kicks off their official start to the holidays. For the garden shop itself, this year’s design is influenced by the forest and earth, and all of its natural life. Think dirt, bugs, worms, moss, plants and flowers, and roaming creatures like woodland animals, birds and bees. Fragrances, tools and garden items for all family members will be showcased.

As for what people are gravitating toward, custom designs are strong. “Custom wreaths are the biggest trend,” Marder says. “We offer custom decorating that the family can all participate in. We will also have custom hats that can be decorated for the holidays.”

A Christmas Village designed by Groundworks.

As the landscaping season comes to an end, Groundworks Landscaping in East Hampton looks forward to the holiday season and decorating the showroom. The entire space is moved around to accommodate the displays, a combination of new and old designs each year in traditional red and green. Kim Hren, owner and lead designer, says this is something the team enjoys very much. During the holidays and at their annual open house during the first weekend of December, she says seeing the smiling of faces people old and young and the smell of Christmas is a great feeling.

“I remember what it was like being a kid here and running around through the Christmas trees, the eggnog and cookies that we had all season,” Hren recalls. “It was the time of the year that everyone looked forward to and a lot of people you hadn’t seen for a while would always come in and spend a few hours looking around at our displays, buying new ornaments, a tree and wreath.”

Toy Guide: What the Kids Want This Season

Petit Blue, East Hampton

Mini racing cars are one of Colleen Moeller’s favorites for the holidays. Designed in France, Baghera cars are a vintage style toy that evoke a sense of timelessness for children. As with similar brand Playforever, these can easily be passed on to the next generation. Starting at $20

Steph’s Stuff, East Hampton

A gift that keeps on giving. Stephanie Tekulsky shares Scruff-a-luvs are not only a toy but a teaching activity. Upon opening the box, children will find a bundle of fur with big eyes. Bathe, dry, and brush to reveal a dog, cat or bunny. The brand also supports the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). $30

The Wharf Shop, Sag Harbor

For hours of endless imaginative play, Smart Monkey Imagibricks 16 piece giant building block set is made of 50% recycled material in the USA. Gwen Waddington suggests building a throne, castle, or even a chimney for Santa. $31.50

Stevenson’s Toys & Games, East Hampton and Southampton

Roy Stevenson says kids can’t get enough slime! A love of slime continues with License 2 Play DIY So Slime Factory. With their own factory kids create colorful slime and can add glitter, confetti, or make it glow in the dark. $31.95

Goldsmiths, Greenport

Whether it’s a single egg or a dozen in a carton, Hatchimals offer a magical and interactive experience for kids according to Kathy Halliwell. Play with the egg until the eyes behind the shell begin to change colors and the furry animal inside will start peck and ultimately hatch for a new play experience. Starting at $5