The Hidden Christmas Gem in the Valley: Kraynak’s Christmasland still bringing joy to young and old alike

HERMITAGE — Whether maintaining a years-long tradition or starting a new one, families flock each Christmas holiday to Kraynak’s in Hermitage to experience Santa’s Christmasland. Christie Sweder of Boardman started visiting the store annually before she and her husband had children.

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“When my husband and I were first married, we went to Kraynak’s, and picked out and purchased one of the decorated trees in the Christmasland display,” she said. “The trees are all numbered and for sale, with pick-up being at the end of the holiday season when the displays come down. We still set up that same tree in our foyer every year. The couple began taking their three sons when the boys were infants and toddlers.

“We were drawn to Kraynak’s by the amazing Christmas tree displays in Santa’s Christmasland,” Sweder said. “That was the best part of our visit, and we were sometimes able to walk through a second time if the line wasn’t too long.” She said the Christmas trees – 80 this year — offer something for everyone.

“If extended family was in town visiting for the holidays, we would time our visit to Kraynak’s so we could bring them along,” Sweder explained. “We’ve brought family from as far away as Boston to visit Kraynak’s with us.” Dan Zippie, Kraynak’s general manager, believes one reason the store’s Santa’s Christmasland is so popular year after year is because families can visit together.

“It’s free and kids who enjoyed it years ago, now they’re parents and they’re bringing their kids and then their grandparents,” he said. “So we have almost three, four generations now that have seen Christmasland.”

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Some who have moved out of the area make sure to plan a trip to the display when they return home to visit family, Zippie said. The family-owned store opened in 1949 and Zippie’s grandfather, John Kraynak, started the Christmas display in 1963.

The lawn and garden store was looking for a way to draw in customers during the off-season. Santa’s Christmasland opened on Sept, 10 each year and runs through Dec. 31. Visiting the display is free and all of the trees and ornaments are available for sale too as well as toys and candy for the children.bThe trees, lights, animation are all done in house by Kraynak’s designers and other employees.

“Our help is very talented and from year to year, they’re challenged to come up with new display ideas,” the general manager said. Work designing the displays begins in January. “We’ll get ideas and we’ll order different things and we’ll come up with different themes,” he said.

It’s basically a year-round operation, involving many departments of the store. Tree set up begins in July and in August, designers from the store’s  floral department decorate our trees. And others work to perfect the backdrops.

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Kraynak’s is now owned by Zippie’s uncles, George and John Kraynak. The display is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. In the spring, the store transforms into Easter Bunny Lane, drawing in still more families.

Scott Schulick of Youngstown estimates that he’s visited the store every year for nearly 50 years. “Our grandparents started taking us when we were very young,” he said. “It’s just a tradition that our family has.” He doesn’t think they’ve missed a year and he, his parents and grandmother, 97, just visited a few weeks ago,

Schulick enjoys the memories the visits conjure. “For that time you’re walking through the Christmas Tree Lane, it’s kind of like you’re a kid again,” he said. “It’s just very festive and nostalgic and just a great tradition.” And it’s one Schulick expects to carry on. “I think as long as they’re doing it, we’ll do it,” he said.


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