Giving Thanks – Day 15: Bronner’s

It would be a tough task to say something about Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, in Frankenmuth, Michigan, that hasn’t already been said, written, broadcasted, and reported many times over. Even for those who find Christmas to be something other than “the most wonderful time of the year,” Bronner’s is special.

Open 361 days each year, my guess is that the most difficult day of the year at Bronner’s is December 26th. The anticipation of Christmas that begins to seep in during the days before Halloween is unmistakable. I have allowed my ornery-old-man streak to show through when I have written about the commercialism that controls this season in other articles. However, I still love the real Christmas.

Today, I went to Bronner’s again for the first time. I chose to see things I hadn’t before. I purposefully walked slowly through each aisle, taking in as many of the colors, lights and sounds I possibly could. I think the good folks at Bronner’s have applied the magic of Christmas to everything possible, and I mean that in a good way.

We have visited Bronner’s many times through the years, and each time is special. We have had the privilege of personal contact with the Bronner family three times. As you know, if you have read “A Coffee State of Mind” posts about our family, we have four children, a daughter, and triplet sons. When our boys were babies, we visited Bronner’s. We had a single stroller our daughter pushed, and a twin stroller my wife pushed. I carried all the diaper bags. Irene Bronner noticed us walking through the store and stopped to talk with us. Before we left, she gave us four Christmas bulbs with our children’s names painted on them. That was thirty-seven years ago.

During a visit to Bronner’s when our boys were in elementary school, Wayne Bronner asked us if his photographer could take a picture of them for a promotional brochure they were working on. We happily agreed, even though the boys weren’t too excited about it. We still have the flier.

In the summer of 1989, I was sitting on an airplane at Detroit Metro Airport, waiting to fly to Atlanta, Georgia for the Christian Bookseller’s Convention. I looked up and saw Mr. and Mrs. Bronner coming down the aisle. I was thrilled when they stopped at my row and Mr. Bronner said, “Hi! I guess these are our seats!” What a gift it was to spend two hours talking with this delightful couple. They treated me like I was a lifelong friend. When we landed they offered me a ride to my hotel.

While strolling through Bronner’s today, I spent time reading some of the many articles written about Wally and Irene Bronner. Family photos include Wally playing saxophone in the high school marching band, and Wally and Irene playing instruments with their grandchildren which was a Christmas tradition. Sadly, articles also include many covering the story of Wally Bronner passing away in 2008, at the age of 81. Hanging in the corner of the display is Wally’s bright red suit coat and the colorful Christmas tie he always wore. I am persuaded that the only friends Wally and Irene Bronner didn’t have were the ones they had not yet met.

After a heartwarming walk through Bronner’s during which I bought a puzzle we already have, and an Advent Calendar, we finished our trip to Frankenmuth with lunch at Zehnder’s Restaurant. Beautifully decorated, the ambience at Zehnder’s is like snuggling in a big easy chair under a warm blanket.

I have thought about asking one of the associates at Bronner’s, “Do you ever get tired of this?” I honestly don’t think any of them do. I really don’t know how anyone could work at Bronner’s without having the childlike excitement about Christmas that for some never fades. It’s just like Wally Bronner used to say, “Christmas is always just around the corner.”

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