Inside Bronners Christmas Wonderland – the largest Christmas store in the world

About 6 hours from Chicago (or two hours from Detroit) is Bronners Christmas Wonderland. This year-round Christmas store is home to over 50,000 Christmas items, including 6000 different ornaments, 100’s of trees, an entire department devoted to Christmas lights and several art design studios where professionals hand paint ornaments. Bronners is so large, that you’ll need at least two or three hours just to walk through its various departments. Thankfully, a full service cafe awaits tired Christmas shoppers for a mid-point break. Bronners is also home to a theater, chapel and a shipping department where you can ship your purchases back home.

There is something rather odd about shopping at Bronners in the summer, but during my recent visit in September, we were close enough to Christmas that it actually felt quite comforting. Just keep in mind that you’ll leave the store humming Christmas music for the next couple of hours.

Ornaments are sorted by style – and you’ll find entire sections devoted to themes. For example, if you want a bowling ornament, you’ll be able to pick from about 40 different ones. There is even a section just for ornaments decorated for countries. And yes – things do become quite overwhelming, but you’ll have a hard time not finding some really cute Christmas items.

Bronners opened its original doors back in 1945 when Wally Bronner switched from painting signs, to creating Christmas ornaments for the locals. Sixty-five years later, his store is the largest in the world, often welcoming up to 10,000 visitors on a single day. Sadly, Wally Bronner passed away in 2008, but the store continues to grow based on the vision of the man behind it.

Getting to Bronners is a bit of a trek – thankfully there is plenty to do in Frankenmuth, so the drive to Michigan isn’t for nothing.

At night, thousands of lights make the entire complex even nicer to visit. Even when the store is closed, a drive through the parking lot is a show on its own.

Several of the departments sell ornaments that can be decorated, and artists will decorate those for free. On busy days, expect the decorating to take an hour or more. On quiet days, there is usually no wait.

A trip to Bronners is a ton of fun, as long as you allow yourself enough time to browse the various departments. Purchases are all well packaged for your ride home, and even the biggest Scrooge will have a hard time staying grumpy surrounded by so much Christmas joy.

Bronners is the first big building in Frankenmuth, and signs directing you to it are found all down the highways, so the place is quite hard to miss. Opening hours are listed on their site.


Frankenmuth, Michigan – a little slice of Bavaria in the Midwest

Last Thursday evening I suddenly had the urge to take the family on a short trip for the weekend. We decided to avoid flying, and also to avoid heading North to the Wisconsin Dells like most people in Chicago do this time of year.

Instead, we loaded up the family truckster and drove 300 miles east to Frankenmuth Michigan.

Frankenmuth is often referred to as “Little Bavaria”, and is the only city outside Germany that has been officially sanctioned by the city of Munich as an official Oktoberfest location.

The village is about 25 miles north of Flint, so you don’t get the feeling you are completely isolated from civilization. Frankenmuth is home to several tourist attractions including Bronners Christmas Wonderland, the Bavarian Inn, the Bavarian Belle and the River Place shopping center.

Frankenmuth has several hotels, but to get the “real” Bavarian experience, you really need to stay at the Bavarian Inn Lodge. This 355 room hotel has grown from a modest motor lodge, into a large resort with multiple restaurants, 5 swimming pools, shops and a massive entertainment center with the “worlds largest Bavarian themed mini golf course”.

%Gallery-29916%Each room is named after a resident of Frankenmuth, and you can select from various rooms, including pool access rooms, whirlpool suites and river view rooms. You drive up to the Bavarian Inn through an impressive hand build covered bridge which was commissioned by the Zehnder family in 1978 (The Zehnders own most of downtown Frankenmuth, including the Inn). Summer room rates are between $150 and $250 a night.

During the summer, you can enjoy their Biergarten on the front porch, often accompanied by live entertainment. No stay in Frankenmuth is complete without dinner at the restaurant that started the family tradition; Zehnders. This restaurant is the second largest in the country, and the largest family owned, just be sure to show up early, as weekend waits can be over an hour. If Zehnders is too busy, try the Bavarian Inn restaruant just across the road (another Zehnder family restaurant!).

If the idea of a large 355 room resort doesn’t feel right, you can go with one of the many other accommodations in the village; the Marv Hertzog hotel, Zehnders splash village, a Marriott Springhill Suites or one of 23 other hotels, B&B’s or camping sites.

Downtown Frankenmuth has plenty to do; you can take a one hour ride down the Cass river on the “Bavarian Belle” ($9), you can do some shopping at the River Place shopping center where you will find 34 stores offering everything from sports memorabilia to fudge. You’ll also find stores on Main street, but almost every other store seems to be devoted to making and selling more fudge. If you like cheese, you won’t want to miss the Frankenmuth cheese haus, just be sure to pick up some bacon cheese spread, or some of their famous chocolate cheese.

Before leaving Frankenmuth, you should make some time to visit Bronners Christmas Wonderland. Bronners is the largest Christmas store in the world, and is open 361 days a year. It was founded in 1945 by Wally Bronner (who sadly passed away in April of this year). Bronners is the kind of place that you have to see to believe. It is surreal to wander through close to half a mile of decorations, lights and trees in the middle of summer. The total store area covers 5 and a half football fields. At night the entire place is lit up with close to 700 animated figures. One of the highlights of the store is their ornament decoration department, where you can have your purchases hand decorated by a Bronners artist.

Frankenmuth is about 300 miles from Chicago, 330 miles from Indianapolis, 90 miles from Detroit and 240 miles from Cleveland. Unfortunately, the road to Frankenmuth (from most destinations) is quite boring, but thankfully you’ll pass at least one Michigan winery every 30 or 40 miles where the passengers of legal drinking age in your car can sample some excellent wines.