by Kevin Baird, EDN
If you are anything like me, you have driven by Christmas Treasures, in Highway 126, dozens of times and never stopped in. Every I drive past it, I tell myself that I will and check the store out, next time; but that never happens. Last weekend I decided it was time to pay the store a visit, so I hopped in my Dodge Neon, put on some Christmas tunes and downed a Red Bull as I drove 45 miles to Blue River, Oregon, to see what Christmas Treasures was all about. Maybe I would come back with a Christmas treasure of my own.
Pat Dibala and his life partner, Nancy Wood, have been successfully running Christmas Treasures since 1993. Before opening the shop, Pat and Nancy were living in Florida. They had visited a number of Christmas shops during their travels on the eastern seaboard and had taken a fancy to them. The couple also had an affinity for collectibles and figurines. One day, Pat said,
“Let’s try the Christmas business.”
Pat, Nancy and their children, moved to Blue River, Oregon, to start Christmas Treasures, which opened in the fall of 1993. Originally, Pat was going to carve his own ornaments to stock the shelves and Nancy was going to be in charge of sales, but Pat quickly realized he could never feed his family if he ran the shop that way. So they began buying merchandise to fill their store.
It’s hard to look at Pat and not think of Chris Kringle. Pat’s white beard and hair, stout build, steel-blue eyes and deep red Carhartt shirt remind me of a Santa Clause you see in the movies, living among the people in New York City and surprising everybody at the end when his true identity is revealed. He asked me if I wanted a tour of the store and proceeded to show me German nutcrackers, nativities from Italy, hand-carved Santa figurines from Oregon and trees covered from tip to trunk in ornaments. A crackling fire made it warm and cozy inside while old-fashioned Christmas tunes filled the air. I couldn’t help but feel a little Christmas nostalgia rush over me as I saw all the fine works of Christmas art that saturate the store.
Owning your own business in this day and age isn’t easy. With companies like Amazon selling just about anything you can think of over the internet, Pat has had to stay ahead of the game to make it. And make it he has. Pat has seen Christmas stores in Portland, Bandon, Sisters, Albany and Salem all go out of business.
“What saved us was Steven,” Pat said.
In 1999, Pat’s son, Steven, at the time a high school junior, begged his dad for a computer. He had been learning everything about computers in school. He made a deal with his dad that if he got a computer he would build a website for Christmas Treasures. The deal was made and, as a result, Christmas Treasures was one of the very first Christmas shop websites. For years Christmas Treasures turned-up as number one on search engines in regards to Christmas ornaments and figurines.
Pat and Nancy had toyed with the idea of selling coffee and ice cream, but their internet sales exploded and there was no need for it.
Business has grown a lot over the years. In 2001, the year they doubled the size of their store by converting their kitchen and living room into a larger store front, they supplemented it with a 40-ft storage trailer. Presently, that container has grown to a 10,000 square foot warehouse. They average 15,000 internet sales a year to 40 different countries. He has even hauled in a few enormous sales. A few years ago he sold $20,000 of fiberglass reindeer to a military base in South Korea. More recently, Steven has created a Facebook page with over 1,500 followers, of which half are from Europe.
“We’ve been real fortunate,” Pat said.
Keeping Christmas Treasures competitive is a constant battle.
“We have to be careful we’re not buying something Wal-Mart has,” Pat said. To stay competitive Pat is always looking for unique merchandise. In January, Pat will fly to Atlanta for the Atlanta Gift Show. He hopes he’ll find new artists to purchase ornaments and figurines from. Later next year he is also heading to Germany to look for more product. In the future he hopes to make a trip to Scandinavia.
Christmas Treasures also boasts a 160-ft lighted tree. In 1994, the amount of incandescent bulbs that lit his tree cost him $10 an hour to keep it lit.
“I couldn’t wash my clothes,” he said. He had to turn off the tree in order for his appliances to work. In 2003, Pat restrung the tree with LEDs, which brought costs down to $1 per day to keep it lit.
“It was fun to see in a windstorm,” he said, “It looked like a monster.”
Weather has taken a toll on the lights though. Nowadays only 20% of the lights on the tree are still functioning. A man from Springfield offered his services to relight the tree, free of charge.
“He must like Christmas,” Pat said.
After speaking with Pat, I went back through the store to find an ornament for my tree. As I cruised through the store I was amazed with how unique everything was. It definitely isn’t the kind of stuff you’ll find at Wal-Mart or Target. I ended-up buying a wooden yellow duck with a jumping-jack mechanism because I thought it would go well with the devilish clown ornament my grandmother gave me when I was young, which also had a jumping-jack mechanism. That was the first ornament of it’s kind I had ever seen in a store and now, thanks to Christmas Treasures, it’s on my tree.