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Making Spirits Bright: Inside the Workshops of 7 Christmas Store Owners

Illustration of a woman floating in a pool on an inflatable tube resembling a Christmas wreath.

Mike Golomb became a Christmas devotee after a search to find the perfect vintage ugly holiday sweater resulted in a collection of over 30,000 of them. This unintended hobby is now a 10-year side business that Mike is about to take on full time. 

Christmas was in Kelli Girsch’s blood. She grew up in a home that celebrated the season year-round, complete with a trimmed tree. Kelli’s Christmas store is her third subscription-box business—and her most successful yet.

Whatever your feelings about Christmas, the point is this: your one weird thing probably isn’t just your own.

What’s your one—and I say this with absolute affection and respect“weird thing”? What if you could turn that unique interest into a business? Mike and Kelli built Christmas stores on the bet they weren’t alone—and they were right. While signs of the season creep into retail stores and onto Netflix earlier and earlier (even before the jack-o’-lantern hits the compost bin), for these two, Christmas is evergreen. It’s not a holiday or even a season—it’s a way of life. 

Whatever your feelings about Christmas, the point is this: your one weird thing probably isn’t just your own. And it may give you the chance to turn what you’re into, into a business. In that spirit, here are seven Christmas stores who snagged their own unique corner of the holiday market—seven offbeat ideas to inspire you to pursue your one weird dream too. 

Illustration of two Christmas-themed books with a tag that reads "Add Bundle"

1. Jammie Claus

Christmas store: A family pajama tradition

Location: Cleveland, OH

Head elves: Megan R. Holmes, PhD; Linda K. O’Dell, PhD; Laura Coghlin; Scott Holmes 

Story: Jammie Claus is the result of four generations of daughters who created a family tradition around the character of Mrs. Claus that shares her voice and purpose as the bringer of Christmas Eve pajamas. They invited customers to join that tradition through an online Christmas store they launched earlier this year. The concept? A storybook about Mrs. Claus that adds depth to the character and a gift bag (magically filled with fresh pjs each year) that helps other families start their own tradition.

Jammie Claus is also a social enterprise committed to empowering women through story—Mrs. Claus as a strong leader—and through profits from the brand’s Empowerment head scarves, which support Cleveland Sews, an organization providing skills and employment to underserved communities.

Laura on knowing your values: “Every decision we make, we ask if this aligns with our mission of empowering women and promoting resilience in children or if it will contribute to our vision of spreading unconditional love and kindness. If the answer is no, then we don’t pursue it.”

Megan on launching in just eight months: “As a family business, we divide out what needs to get done and share the responsibilities. Each of us carry separate professional careers, and our complementary talents have helped us prepare quickly for this holiday season. [We also] have three young kids, so often long hours are put in after the kids are in bed.”

2. My Green Christmas

Christmas store: Holiday crackers with less waste

Location: London, UK

Head elf: Joshua Wood

Story: This is a relatively new business for Joshua, who realized last year that Christmas produces a lot of plastic waste. Hard pressed to find Christmas crackers without disposable plastic toys, he created his own. My Green Christmas crackers still contain the silly paper hat and a dad joke—some things are sacred—but instead of a cheap plastic toy, the cracker is packed with seed kits to grow your own veggies or flowers. 

The company has grown to a remote team of three but, for now, Joshua only does elf work during the holidays. His career in the software industry keeps him busy in the off-season.

Joshua on fringe benefits: “Since we started this project, we have been inspired to become more environmentally friendly in other areas of our life.”

Illustration of a Christmas wreath adorned with red ribbon and a miniature reindeer. A tag says "Add to cart."

3. Rent-A-Christmas 

Christmas store: Rental trees and decor

Location: New York, NY

Head elves: Judah Parness, aka Skeeter Gumdrop; Kristen Parness, aka Sparkles Peppermint

Story: In 2013, Judah and Kristen were spending their first Christmas together. They wanted to kit out their New York City apartment in full holiday splendor, but there was one problem: where would they store everything come January? Why couldn’t they just rent Christmas decor? That day, their seasonal service business, Rent-A-Christmas, was born. Now, the couple outfits homes all over New York with the full holiday experience—then tears it all down for their customers when the season is over.

We don’t have a full-year runway in which to generate revenue, so it is imperative that we plan everything.

Judah and Kristen Parness

Judah and Kristen on timing: “We don’t have a full-year runway in which to generate revenue, so it is imperative that we plan everything. We keep a critical eye on costs, and we try to plan our expenses to times in the year when we are also generating sales.”

4. Santa’s Bags

Christmas store: Storage for trees and decor 

Location: West Valley City, UT

Head elf: Jared Hendricks (owner), Parker Eakin (ecommerce director)

Story: After first getting into the seasonal lighting business, Jared went all in and has since launched three more Christmas stores. Santa’s Bags was the answer to an annual problem: what to do with Christmas decorations during the other 11 months of the year (that is, if you haven’t rented them from Judah and Kristen). Trees and lights and ornaments pack up into tidy, compact bags rather than clutter up precious storage. 

Jared on surviving the seasonal surge: “We spend a lot of time planning out our operations, automating as much as possible so that once the surge of orders hit, most of the tasks, such as order processing, shipping, and accounting, are streamlined and easy for anyone to do.”

Illustration of three ugly Christmas sweatshirts in red, pink, and dark blue and all featuring a unicorn design. A row of colour swatches sits below the sweatshirts.

5. The Ugly Sweater Store

Christmas store: Vintage (and new) “ugly” Christmas sweaters

Location: St. Louis, MO

Head elf: Mike Golomb

Story: Mike sat out a Christmas party 10 years ago because his thrift store attempts to find an on-theme ugly sweater came up short (even though his kindergarten teacher mom owned a closetful). A year later, Mike’s mom found a goldmine of vintage sweaters at a local Goodwill and asked how many he wanted. He took all 30 and resold them on eBay. Those efforts continued to scale until the accidental collector had amassed over 30,000 vintage ugly sweaters. He now sells them, along with his own creations—sweaters that hold a beer bottle in a front pocket—via his online Christmas store. He even recently partnered with White Castle to create a dedicated design for the fast food chain.

The Ugly Sweater Store has been a 10-year side hustle for Mike, but he says he recently quit his job and plans to expand the business into other holidays. Right now, though, the business is still seasonal and Mike says it doesn’t make sense to hire staff—temp elfs (his friends and family), after all, are willing to work for “eggnog.”

Mike on preparing for the spikes: “Plan ahead. If you have items that sell fast, pre-package them. And make sure you have a stock of packing supplies, as nothing is more frustrating than running out at 10 pm to find a 24-hour store that sells tape and ink.”

6. Fabulous Fairytales

Christmas store idea: High-end ornaments

Location: London, UK

Head elf: Paul Clancy, aka Magical Mr. Paul

Story: Paul worked in the fashion industry for years before changing careers and becoming a gardener. It was one of his clients—a woman who asked him to dress her garden for the holidays—who ignited his love of Christmas. That work grew into a luxury wreath business that eventually spawned a second Christmas store, Fabulous Fairytales, a collection of fantasy-inspired luxury ornaments. Playing Santa is now Paul’s full-time job, and the company has grown to a staff of eight.

The Christmas industry is a fast-paced business packed into a short space of time. Enjoy the ride.

Paul Clancy

Paul on thriving through Christmas: “The Christmas industry is a fast-paced business packed into a short space of time. Enjoy the ride. Allow yourself time to step back and pat yourself on the back for the great job you are doing.”

7. My Christmas Crate

Christmas store: Year-round holiday-themed subscription boxes

Location: Lincoln, CA

Head elf: Kelli Girsch

Story: Christmas in July (and August and February) is in full swing at Kelli’s house. She comes by it honestly. As a serial founder, Kelli’s instincts told her she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t wait a whole year for eggnog season, and she was right. My Christmas Crate—her third and most profitable subscription business—ships the spirit of the season all year long. Being Santa is her full-time job. And her elves? They’re teenagers (including one of her own) who she employs to assemble the boxes. “Teens are easy to hire and eager to learn,” she says.

Kelli on keeping up the Christmas cheer: “Customer support is key! Don’t try to outsource too much or you’ll end up in the red. I try to keep customer support in-house to reduce overhead costs. The downside is that I take each and every customer issue or complaint personally.”

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Illustrations by: Amanda Berglund