Always Christmas of Canterbury Village in Michigan
For 20+ years "Always Christmas" has been a destination spot for travelers and holiday shoppers year-round. Opened in 1993, the Aldridge family launched this Yuletide-themed store as part of Olde World Canterbury Village in Lake Orion (or more accurately, Orion Township), Michigan. At 90,000 square feet, the holiday cheer was sprawling. Sadly the 2013 season was the last for Aldridge's Always Christmas to be seen at such great size and beauty.
But it is not closed! Contrary to common town belief, the Lake Orion Christmas store did not go out of business - or even move. Well, not out of Canterbury Village anyway. It's just a tad smaller now, after the big building was sold to Woodside Bible Church in 2014 and the Christmas business was spread out to smaller shops within the same site location.
But to remember or glimpse the "old" (or should that be "olde"?) Aldridge's Always Christmas of Canterbury Village, continue scrolling down to what once was!
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While almost everyone in Michigan has heard of the world's largest Christmas store out in Frankenmuth (aka Bronner's Christmas Wonderland), Always Christmas was 'always' a bit of a secret kept by its nearby towns. Located in Canterbury Village (and during the holiday season the whole Olde World village is decked out in displays of Santa and nativities) and positioned off a quiet stretch of Joslyn Road, the store received good traffic year-round but prepared for a crowd during the months of November and December.
Whether you were looking for cheap ornaments, unique decorations, inspiration, or just a 'free' Christmas activity for the family this holiday haven supplied it. I speak from experience and fond childhood memories when I state that you could literally spend hours wandering the stretches of multiple floors in Always Christmas and still come across previously unnoticed deals or decor.
No entry fee and tons to look at kept adults and kids busy and in a merry mood thanks to sparkling lights and bulbs, a giant snow castle, life-size reindeer, full-size Christmas trees, and (of course) a constant loop of Christmas carols and hymns. The only cost came from any purchases you chose to make.
If you chose to take the main entrance into Always Christmas, you walked up wide stairs painted festive red and green with lights lining the steps for nighttime. Upon entering you were greeted by a 5-foot Santa Claus. Then step through the final door and it instantly became Christmas, no matter what the month.
The other way to enter took you through thick, old-fashioned double doors; then past a knight in shining armor, right to the front of a towering blue and white Christmas castle that stretched to the height of the second floor and appeared to come right out of a fairy tale.
Of course cash registers were located next to both of these entrance/exits!
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While it's certainly true that any long-lasting store sells a product people are interested in buying, I feel what drew me to visit Always Christmas each year was that while the for-sale items were often fun to look at on their own, the place was also covered floor-to-ceiling (including ON the ceiling) in Christmas beauty and silliness just for the joy of looking at it.
For example, large plastic ornaments dangled over your head. All around the tops of the walls on the main level ran shelves playing home to everything from full-size reindeer to polar bears to Eskimos to Huskies pulling sleds. Knights in shining armor were present to ‘guard’ various halls and doors of castle stone and antique wood.
Then there was the aforementioned impressive Christmas Castle. It glittered white and blue and reached up into the 'sky', or through the open space left by a circular balcony design on the main floor for people to look down upon said castle. It possibly goes without saying that this area of the store was a child magnet.
Trees of every color gave light out of corners and at one point filled a sub-floor with a mini forest of Christmas trees ranging from small to average to you-would-need-a-mansion sized. You could find traditional green or snow-brushed or go a little different with purple and pink.
Department 56 Displays
Back on the first floor there was an entire room dedicated to Department 56 Villages, all laid out beautifully on platforms for you to take as much time as you liked noticing the little details. Steps of ice were from Styrofoam for the little villagers and backdrops displayed mountains or city skylines for each and every town.
You could check out the Department 56 Dickens’ Village, Christmas in the City, the town of A Christmas Story, or the original Snow Village. Pieces were normally always activated, allowing the animation and lights to bring a sense of life to them.
Always Christmas also has a fantastic Halloween Department 56 village! It was originally tucked into a corner of its own among all the red and green, and its design was just as elaborate as all the rest.
Briefly mentioned above, there was (and is) a fine line between merchandise and for-fun decoration in Always Christmas. Many displays are carefully designed to entice you into a purchase, as in any shop. If perhaps there was always more detail in a D56 village layout than your average grocery store endcap, that was the nature of Christmas product: shiny or sparkly, old-fashioned or modern, cute or quirky, subtle or gorgeous - they need to stand out. Into your head went thoughts of how great holiday themed miniature buildings and people would look in your living room or the way your Christmas tree would glitter with that particular bulb.
So yes, you could buy almost every Department 56 piece on display (though not the display pieces themselves, generally). The lovingly built up nativity scenes were all parts of collections kept in boxes just awaiting your wallet. And of course every plastic Christmas tree had a price tag attached.
The majority of the Always Christmas store consisted of ornaments for sale, however. They were everywhere, in every room, decking the walls and filling cartons and tabletops and shelves. They truly had something for everybody. Styles that were traditional, sports themed, Michigan pride, heritage-focused, woodsy and nature loving, and so on. Material might be glass or plastic, glitter or beads.
And the just plain odd could never be forgotten. Always Christmas gained something of a reputation in the late 2000's for being the place to go if you were in need of an entry for an "Ugliest Christmas Ornament" contest! Who could blame them? Amongst all that beauty there were several truly... shall we say unique styles? After all, it's not everyone in the country who thinks shining fish heads belong on Christmas trees...
While ultimately Aldridge's Always Christmas is and always has been a store, putting them in the business of selling product, they sometimes offered things to do apart from shop.
During the months of November and December children might come sit on Santa's lap as he took up residence outside the beloved snow castle. Likewise, couches or simply the floor were a fine place for kids to sit and watch a quick animatronic puppet show featuring Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs putting on a little song and dance while friendly woodland critters looked on.
Or, adults might sign up for group lessons and workshops in building Department 56 displays, lead and taught by the designer of the store's very own dioramas.
There's no place like home for the holidays...
It was a sad day for me when I learned the Always Christmas store I'd loved so much as a child and now (as an adult) wasted many a December hour in would no longer be. A smaller version, spread throughout multiple buildings, just didn't seem quite the same. I still find joy in what's left, but every now and then I like to remember the Always Christmas that was. I hope you do too!
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