Whether or not there is snow on the ground, customers entering Dowagiac’s Deck the Halls can expect to enter winter wonderland.
Colorful ornaments, one a glittering ice cream cone that looks good enough to eat, another a yellow pair of skis ready to hit the slopes, line the walls as customers walk through the front door. Christmas trees and snowflakes litter the store while smiling faces of snowmen and nutcrackers greet every customer.
Breaking up the sea of red and green is the blonde hair of owner Melissa Gunn, sitting behind the counter, ready to infect others with the Christmas spirit.
Deck the Halls is a Christmas-themed store located in downtown Dowagiac, 202 Front St. The store carries a wide variety of novelty Christmas items and gifts. Open since November 2017, Melissa said the store has been a surprise success.
“It is extremely exciting that I got to turn my love of Christmas into a business,” Melissa says. “Love isn’t even a strong enough word for how I feel about Christmas.”
Though Deck the Halls has always called Dowagiac its home, the idea to open the store was born in Saugatuck, Michigan. Melissa can still remember the moment the idea came to her, as she and her husband Jeff were strolling through a Christmas themed store in Saugatuck, when Melissa turned to Jeff and wistfully told him that she would love to own a store like that one day.
To her surprise, her husband responded with a simple, “Well then, do it.”
With Jeff’s support Melissa had Deck the Halls open in a small location on Commercial Street in Dowagiac for the following Christmas season.
“We got things together really quickly, and I’ve loved it,” she says.
Melissa’s love of Christmas began long before that day, however. She says she has always loved Christmas and been what she calls a “Christmas nut.”
“I grew up in a home where my mother decorated the house floor to ceiling. Every room, every doorway, every window was decorated,” she says. “I just grew up with the love of Christmas. It was always magical. It was always this really great time of the year. Christmas at my parents’ house was always a very big deal.”
Even outside of her parents’ house, her extended family was also always in the Christmas spirit and would all celebrate the holiday together, which is part of the reason Melissa still loves Christmas today, she says.
“It was the one time of year I got to see my entire family,” she says. “It wasn’t even that we did gifts or anything, it was just that I got to be with all of my cousins at the same time and play games and be goofy and just have fun. So, that’s probably where my love of Christmas came from.”
Melissa carried her love of Christmas and her mother’s traditions with her into adulthood. Starting in early November, Melissa and her husband decorate their home floor to ceiling — both indoors and outdoors — in Christmas decorations. This year, she is putting up five different themed Christmas trees.
“It’s garland on the banister, ribbons on every kitchen cabinet,” she says. “We really go all out. We just love Christmas.”
Melissa says she understands that not everyone has the same amount of enthusiasm for Christmas that she does, but that even Scrooges who routinely say “Bah Humbug” during the holiday season can be charmed by Deck the Halls.
Though Melissa says Deck the Halls will always be a Christmas store, the business currently sells a small selection of non-holiday themed Michigan-made products, and is looking to add more. In addition, the store will be adding other holiday items throughout the year, including Hanukkah, spring, fall, Easter and Halloween items.
Despite this, Melissa says she never gets sick of Christmas, even when she is surrounded by Christmas items and music in her store year-round — and she believes many others feel the same way, based on Deck the Halls’ success.
In its first year of business, Deck the Halls was popular enough that it was able to move from a small location on Commercial Street to its current location on Front Street, which is 2.5 times larger than its original storefront. The success of the store is entirely attributed to “Christmas nuts” across Michiana, Melissa says, who travel far and wide to visit her store.
“When I first started this store, I thought that it could just fall flat and fail, but I just knew there had to be other Christmas nuts out there like me. And there are,” she says. “It means so much to me the way people have embraced the store and found something they love. I think it just goes to show how much Christmas can mean to people.”
Deck the Halls, 202 Front St., Dowagiac, is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays in November and December. The store has limited hours throughout the rest of the year. To learn more or to contact the store, visit its Facebook page or find it on Instagram at @deckthehallsdowagiac.
Photos by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios