For most, Christmas comes but one day a year. But here in Frankenmuth, we celebrate a special kind of Christmas magic that lasts the whole year through. You’ll feel it as the cozy, horse-drawn carriages of Frankenmuth Carriage Company and Fantasy Carriage Company clomp along our snow-dusted Main Street, draped in dreamy garlands and jingle bells. In the treasures found only at our Christkindlmarkt — a warm and welcoming European-style outdoor artisan marketplace filled with seasonal favorites – and all throughout our cozy Christmas village, decked with displays and decorations so fabulous and festive, you’ll only find them here. Most of all, you can experience Christmas all year long (361 days of it, to be exact!) at the World’s Largest Christmas Store, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland! Because, what began in 1945 as a small sign painting business has since grown into an absolute wonderland of trims, trees, gifts, and goodies from 50 nations around the globe that’ll make your soul swell with Christmas joy (and leave it lasting long past the holiday season)!
Meet “Mr. Christmas”
For Wallace John Bronner — the originator of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, better known simply as “Wally” or “Mr. Christmas” — the joys of Christmas had always been larger-than-life, even from his youngest years. Growing up in a German family, Wally enjoyed old world Christmas customs (like his family’s parlor doors being covered in white sheets, then removed late afternoon on Christmas Eve by a “Christmas Angel” so that Santa Claus could do his decorating in secrecy)! But, among all of his family’s Christmas traditions, Wally always revered that the reason for the season was represented in the colorful paper nativity scene tucked under his family Christmas tree, not in the brightly colored packages beneath its branches.
In addition to his love of all-things-CHRISTmas, Wally’s love for serving customers came early, too — starting at the age of 12 when he became a clerk at his Aunt Hattie Hubinger’s grocery store, Hubinger Grocery, run by three generations of his mother’s family. His passion for business and customer service only grew stronger when, at age 16, he started an after-school sign painting business in his parent’s basement. Just two years later, in 1945, Wally graduated, marking the start of his business career and the humble-yet-wholesome beginnings of the now epically proportioned all-things-Christmas store known today as Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.
The Making (And Moving) Of Bronner’s
The creation of custom Christmas panels for City of Clare lampposts may have sparked the start of Wally Bronner’s career in crafting and selling awe-inspiring Christmas decorations – but his dream of “decorating hearts with peace and love” is what made that career a such a long, joyful, and successful one. By 1954, Wally and his loving wife, Irene, had constructed Bronner’s first permanent storefront in Frankenmuth to accommodate their growing business — built by Bronner Brothers Construction (none other than Wally’s father and uncle) — at 121 E. Tuscola near Main Street.
While Bronner’s experienced many expansions over the years (first, adding on to the original building; then, purchasing the old bank in 1966 to become Bronner’s Tannenbaum Shop; later, adding the Hubinger Grocery location in 1971 known as Bronner’s Bavarian Corner), the commitment to spreading genuine Christmas spirit and cheer continued.
By 1977, the need for consolidation of the three stores was undeniable, and Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland was born under one sparkling, light-lined roof at its current location, 25 Christmas Lane. A 1991 addition to the building nearly doubled its size, while a shipping department expansion in 2000 and another major expansion in 2002 brought the entire Bronner’s building size to an astounding 5.5 football fields! Today, the Bronner’s showroom alone spans the length of an incredible 1.5 football fields!
In 1992, the addition of the on-site Silent Night Memorial Chapel — a project near and dear to Wally’s heart — was completed. This welcome addition to Bronner’s 27 acres of beautifully-landscaped grounds was modeled after the original chapel in Oberndorf/Salzburg, Austria, which marks the site of St. Nicholas Church where “Silent Night” was first sung on Christmas Eve of 1818.
Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, Then & Now
What started from humble beginnings in 1945 has since grown into the World’s Largest Christmas Store and an absolute mecca of all-things-Christmas, frequented and flocked to by families from across the globe, year after year. And while the man known and loved as “Mr. Christmas” was called to his heavenly home in 2008, the Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland tradition of love, joy, and jaw-dropping Christmas decorations continues to spread CHRISTmas cheer year-round (under second generation leadership by Wally’s loved ones).
Whether you’re visiting in winter to experience firsthand the magic of Christmastime in Frankenmuth or planning a trip for spring, summer, or fall to enjoy a little piece of Christmas all year long, more than 50,000 trims and gifts (for all seasons, reasons, and budgets!) are waiting to be plucked from the shelves, personalized, and given joyfully.
Stroll the showroom, where you’ll find more than 300 decorated Christmas trees, 100,000 individual lights, 6,000 styles of ornaments, 500 styles of nativity scenes, and 150 styles of nutcrackers, all spread out over the length of 1.5 football fields! Watch as gifted artists handpaint and personalize your ornaments before your eyes (and be sure to check out the over 50% of ornaments in the showroom that are Bronner’s original designs, handcrafted by global artisans exclusively for Bronner’s!)
Want to learn even more about the magic of the World’s Largest Christmas Store and its creator? Dig up more fun facts about Bronner’s, considering cracking the spine on Sharing Joy 365 (Wally Bronner’s autobiography), discover the Picturesque Story of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, or brush up on 111 Reflections Plus for more of Wally’s favorite moments and memories!