By Maria Elliott
If you grew up in the Hermitage, Pennsylvania, area, there’s no doubt you’re familiar with the holiday tradition of visiting Santa’s Christmasland at Kraynak’s.
The store, which has three divisions including a garden center and a plant nursery, opened in 1949, according to its website. Kraynak’s has been known for its intricate exhibits for many years, which are open to the public for free.
Dan Zippie, general manager of Kraynak’s, said the Santa’s Christmasland display was first put together in 1963 and originally appeared inside the garden center area.
He said the original owner, John Kraynak Sr., started out decorating for Christmas in the garden center because it was a popular practice in the 1960s. Kraynak chose to continue the tradition after the overwhelmingly positive response to the display. The setup was eventually moved to the main store in 1969.
The intense process of putting the displays together begins each January, just after the decorations for the previous year are taken down, according to Zippie. He said a panel convenes each year to choose color schemes and popular toys or themes to base designs around.
Then employees work together to bring the exhibits to life in the 300-ft long display, which includes about 80 Christmas trees. Zippie said that long lines start to form on weekends due to the popularity of the one-of-a-kind destination.
“There’s thousands on a particular Saturday, but more as we near Christmas,” Zippie said.
He said there are many people who travel from Youngstown, Akron and Canton, as well as other parts of Ohio. Even people who have moved away still come back to take part in the tradition during the holiday season, Zippie said.
“Children who came through here are now grandparents,” he said.
Sandi Tyson, a Greenville, Pennsylvania, resident, said she has been taking her children and grandchildren to the see Christmasland for the last 35 years or so.
Tyson said there was a period of time when her children felt they had outgrown the yearly visits, but she now has seven grandchildren who want to experience the Christmas magic, too.
“I don’t take them all at once, so it just kind of goes in spurts. Already, I’ve been there four times this year,” she said.
Though some of the displays are aimed at children, and Santa Claus is there every day to meet with children starting in November, Christmasland isn’t just for children.
Tyson said she likes to make her first trip every fall alone just to check out the fresh exhibits.
“I always like to enjoy it by myself,” she said. “I like the cozy old-fashioned feeling.”
Tyson said she always sees something different each time she goes through and said she’s impressed by the amount of work that goes into putting the displays together.
Douglas Campbell, a Youngstown State University student, said visiting Christmasland with his family each year always brought him a special sense of holiday spirit.
“I don’t know what it was but it legitimately felt like Christmas magic being there with all of them,” Campbell said.
Vicki Micsky, another Greenville resident, said Kraynak’s is the place to go for people looking for a fun family activity during the holiday season.
“It is a great place to get ideas for decorating your house and Christmas tree,” she said.
Kraynak’s also has a spring display called “Easter Bunny Lane,” which is open from February through Easter each year.
Santa’s Christmasland can be visited from Sept. 10 through Dec. 31 each fall. Kraynak’s is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.