I don't like shopping, whether it be for groceries or neck ties. So as Christmas approaches, I treat any necessary holiday shopping as if I were performing a surgical strike. Get in, get the job done and get out. I especially hated shopping as kid. My mom would squeeze my hand in her vice grip as I was dragged from The Vogue to Smith Bridgeman's to Sears, as she shopped as if in a feeding frenzy. A shopper's high, if you will. I hated shopping then, and I hate shopping now. Bronner's, of course, is an exception to this rule, for it was like no department store I'd ever seen.
Growing up in Mid-Michigan has always included Christmas-time visits to Bronner's, usually after an all-you-can-eat chicken dinner at Zender's or The Bavarian Inn in downtown Frankenmuth. The Christmas lights along the river; The covered wooden bridge; horse-drawn carriages in the frosty night; the large lighted displays along the entrance to Bronner's; and then the decorations inside "Wally's world" actually seem to bring the very building itself to life. This place puts Disney's "Small World" to shame. I used to believe it was Santa's workshop at the north pole.
Inside Bronner's, while my parents would browse the shelves of tree bulbs and ornaments, I would become mesmorized by the trains that ran on tracks above my head; the life-sized mechanically moving elves; Santa and his reindeer; talking snowmen; etc. Invariably something would break me out of my trance and I would notice that my parents and siblings were nowhere to be found. This would lead to an hour spent in search parties scouring the numerous aisles of this gargantuan Christmas warehouse (I was always getting lost). Once I was found, my hand ended up back into my mother's vice grip. As I was dragged toward the exit, I would hum the Christmas tune that was playing in the background.
April 1, 2008 -- Wally Bronner dies at age 81
Over the Easter holiday, Wally wrote a goodbye letter to his staff at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland and stating that "the Christ of Christmas is ready to receive me into His heavenly kingdom."
Thank you for all of the memories (both yesterday's and tomorrow's) Mr. Bronner. God bless you, and may you rest in peace.