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Christmas store approaches 40th year | News

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Christmas store approaches 40th year
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Clearwater, Florida -- Robert's Christmas Wonderland in Clearwater is approaching a big milestone!  

The year-round Christmas and collectibles store is among the largest in the country, helping deck the halls of households across Tampa Bay for nearly 40 years.

Inside the Gulf to Bay store, miniature villages greet you at the front door while further in, you'll find ornaments of all kind.

"I knew I was going to find something here," said Kristi Williams, "We went to Countryside Mall walked through the whole thing and this is where we found our best item."

Her friend Lonetta Sluss chimed in, "Where else would you find a streamliner with Santa Claus in his boxer shorts?"

Owner Bob Frank's story started in the early 1970's, when his father -- who worked in sales for an aluminum manufacturer that also sold Christmas decorations -- suggested he open a Christmas store.

"I said, 'That's the funniest idea I've ever heard,'" he smiled, "We tried it, because we were just plain out of work."

Running your own business is hard, but the 1973 oil embargo made it even harder.

"President Nixon said, 'No Christmas lights.'  What an introduction to the Christmas business," said Frank.

They learned to tighten their belt and survived the oil embargo, along with a handful of economic recessions over the next four decades.

The secret to their success?  A simple business motto.

"Selling quality product at a fair price, in an environment people want to come to," said Frank.

In a place where it's Christmas every day, even some of the staff like Dennis Wilkinson have found it hard to want to work anywhere else. He came on board a couple of years after the store opened its doors at its original location in Pinellas Park.

"I love it, I love it.  People say, 'What's it like working here year round?' I couldn't imagine anything else," said Wilkinson, who also goes by "The Tree Guy" and "The Light Guy."

Frank can't help but to tear up when he talks about the generations of families who keep coming back, making the store he never imagined would grow to what it is today... a tradition.

"Every family has its own stories, some are just so poignant they reach right into your heart," said Frank.

Robert's has been around for so long and have sold so many trees, they have earned the ability to design their own trees.  There's even Christmas tree repair shop in the store for the trees that come with a lifetime warranty.

Among the trees they sell are cactus trees, upside down trees, alpine trees, palm trees and trees of all colors.

While this is a very busy time of year for most retailers, this is actually the slowdown for Robert's, since most people shop right around Thanksgiving!

Robert's Christmas Wonderland is located at 2951 Gulf to Bay Boulevard in Clearwater.  They can be reached at 727-797-1660 or 1-800-861-6389. 

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