In the small Alaskan town of Nikiski, Nikiski Hardware & Supply serves local residents with a selection of home improvement products, clothing, housewares and more. The store also serves as a community gathering place and hosts events throughout the year, including its annual Christmas Extravaganza.
Nikiski Hardware partners with local nonprofit Operation Children First to give away Christmas gifts to kids and families during the event, says John Quick, one of the operation’s six owners. Attendees can cozy up to the outdoor bonfire, make s’mores, go sledding on a hill made specifically for the event and take pictures with Santa’s reindeer.
The event also includes pop-up shops featuring local stores in the area, and kids can visit and take pictures with Santa and receive a special surprise.
“It is great to see kids tell Santa they want a big yellow Tonka truck for Christmas, and then we literally pull out a big yellow Tonka truck for them right there,” Quick says. “Last year, we were able to hand out around 450 gifts to kids and their families. It is a blessing for us to be able to do this event.”
All Is Calm, All Is Bright
In Spokane, Washington, Dawn Gregg, who owns three Ace stores in the area with her husband Bruce, works to make the holidays a little brighter for children in the hospital.
Since 2016, the Greggs have donated Christmas lights, power cords, zip ties and other supplies to light up Cowley Park, which is located across the street from Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and visible from many of the patients’ windows.
“We do a lot to support local organizations and the Children’s Miracle Network, but my favorite project is Cowley Park,” Dawn says. “The first year we flipped the lights on, we could see the kids’ faces up against the windows, and my heart just melted. I really love the joy it brings to the kids, the families and the hospital staff.”
Lighting Up the Holidays
To add extra holiday spirit to their store, Robin and Eric Smith, owners of Petersburg Hardware in Petersburg, Indiana, restored a historical Santa’s sleigh light display that once flew over the town’s Main Street in the 1960s and 1970s.
Robin’s grandparents purchased the display from the city and used it in the store until the early 2000s. The display then sat in storage until Robin’s mother, Sherry Bishop, inherited it when Sherry’s parents passed away.
Robin says her family and store employees came together to return the display to its former glory. Sherry updated the worn-out paint, and store manager Ken Hurst and longtime employee Wendell Wilson updated the electrical. The next challenge was deciding how to hang the massive sleigh and reindeer, so Robin turned to her husband Eric.
“With our three young daughters, Eric understands the importance of providing a dose of Christmas magic,” Robin says. “He hung the display in an alcove of our building using heavy-duty cable and carabiners to make Santa and his reindeer take flight. It is great to hear everyone’s memories of when it flew across Main Street and the joy they receive from those memories.”
Families make the display part of their holiday lights tour and can send their letters to the North Pole through the Santa mailbox in the store.
“Each child receives a personalized return letter,” Robin says. “I read every letter and craft custom responses for each child. The letter also tells them that Santa left them a little surprise at the hardware store for them.”