The World’s Largest CHRISTmas Store® celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020! Like a mini-museum filled with memories and history preserved and on display, Bronner’s program center will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a time capsule. We’re fortunate that originator Wally Bronner had a knack for preserving our hi-STORY, starting from humble beginnings in 1945. Check out this fun Bronner’s Scavenger Hunt of historic artifacts for a trip down memory lane with us!
All the artifacts we’re highlighting in this Bronner’s scavenger hunt can be found in Section 2 when you visit our Frankenmuth, MI store.
Bronner’s Scavenger Hunt – 10 Clues
For all you hunters out there, we’re sharing clues to help you find the 10 artifacts below. BUT if you aren’t able to visit, don’t fret. We’re sharing spoilers at the end of this post – and that’s an (arti)-FACT!😄
1945 – Wally’s First Hand-Painted Outdoor Nativity
Wally Bronner painted his first life-sized Nativity at the age of 18 in 1945 for display in front of the St. Lorenz Lutheran School on Main Street. Crafted from wood, Wally’s carefully cut and painted silhouettes brought the Nativity story to life.
1945 – Christmas Display
* This artifact on our list of 10 is one of two that you will only find the clue in our program center – the real
challenge fun will be to find the remnants from this display in our storeroom!
1951 – Wally’s First Custom-Designed Christmas Decorations
From sign painter to Christmas displays, these decorations share the influence of both! In addition to Wally’s very first outdoor Christmas decoration in 1951, you’ll find two more early designs near-by.
1954 – Bronner’s First “Permanent” Home
Next, see if you can find the original sketch of Bronner’s first “permanent” location. Little did Wally and Irene dream that what was to be Bronner’s “permanent” home was merely the first of four!
Have you ever noticed this building on the north end of town? It’s now home to Star Of The West Milling Company.
Merry Christmas From the Growing Bronner Family
Next, you’ll discover how Wayne and Carla enjoyed this winter stroll pictured in Wally and Irene Bronner’s 1955 Christmas card.
Acme Queen Parlor Organ
Why an organ at Bronner’s? Here’s the little-known story behind the old parlor organ:
“Mom told me that they originally had the organ at their home. It was used on our [parade] float one year and never made it back home. Seems it had a new home in the program center. So Dad got Mom another one from someone who redid them, and that one is now at her home.” – Maria Bronner-Sutorik
1955 – Bronner’s First Catalog
Bronner’s first catalog was printed in 1955. Focused on municipal decorations, the much slimmer and just slightly less colorful catalog featured about 12 items. However, we’re still tickled red and green over it!
Late 1950s – Bronner’s First Publication
EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!!!
A copy of Bronner’s first publication from the late 1950s tells the story of a different decade. In brief, it included decorating trends and innovative new advancements in the commercial decorating world.
Vintage Christmas Ornament Display
Although this sign isn’t the most exciting part of our ninth scavenger hunt item, it does hint to the impressive collection the exhibit holds!
1964 – Bronner’s First Exclusive Design
Bronner’s focus on Christmas decorations for municipalities grew to include residential Christmas décor, too, resulting largely in the Bronner’s you see today. And, of course, custom designs have always been part of Bronner’s offerings. In 1964 Wally collaborated with ornament producers from Germany to design Bronner’s first exclusive Nativity ornament!
Ready, Set, Go!
Print off Bronner’s Artifact Scavenger Hunt before your next visit to see how many you can check off!
If you are up to the challenge of finding these artifacts with just the clues we’ve given you, then do not read any further!
But if you are the kind of person who likes to peek at the puzzle box while you are working, we’re sharing a bit more about these historic relics below!
Bronner’s Scavenger Hunt – The Clues Revealed
Wally’s First Hand-painted Outdoor Nativity
In addition to Wally’s first hand-painted outdoor nativity on display, you’ll find his incredible collection of Nativity scenes from around the world in our program center!
In-store, Bronner’s offers a wide array of Nativity scenes for the home and tree. But did you know that we also offer life-sized Nativity options, many which can be used outdoors? You’ll find some of these on display in our west entrance and throughout the store when you look up! Additionally, our iconic life-sized, fiberglass Nativity scene (an exclusive design) that greets you at both our entrances is available through Bronner’s commercial division.
The Choir Section
Speaking of looking up … see how remnants from that original 1945 Christmas choir display have made their home at Bronner’s today over our music section!
Bronner’s decorating team resurrected the nostalgic “stained glass” choir display with inspiration from an old postcard of the early storeroom.
Wally’s First Custom-Designed Christmas Decorations
Some of you may be familiar with Bronner’s story already. But for those who may be new around here, you might be fascinated to learn that what has grown into the world’s largest CHRISTmas store started as the work of a young sign painter and window trimmer! While trimming windows for Jenison’s Hardware Store in Bay City, Wally was approached by merchants from Clare, Michigan, about finding lamppost Christmas decorations. In this case, these first Christmas decoration panels designed by Wally were the launch of Bronner’s into all things CHRISTmas!
Home Sweet Homes
Wally and Irene experienced blessing after blessing from God as the CHRISTmas business grew.
An additional expansion tripled the size of the CHRISTmas Wonderland’s Original Store. As more and more shoppers made their way to Frankenmuth, Wally purchased the former bank building. It became Bronner’s Tannenbaum Shop in 1966. Then in 1971, Wally added a third building, which became Bronner’s Bavarian Corner. (Formerly it was Hubinger’s Grocery Store, owned and operated by Wally’s Aunt Hattie.) In 1977 Wally consolidated all three locations into one final home at 25 Christmas Lane, where this sketch of the Original Store now finds its home.
Baby It’s Cold Outside – Let’s Go For A Sleigh ride!
Forget the stroller, only a sleigh will do for Mr. Christmas’ family! Wally and Irene Bronner’s young family had grown to include their two eldest children, Wayne and Carla. The vintage sleigh featured in their Christmas card, circa 1955, is now on display in our program center.
“Dad used to take us to the ice skating rink and push us around in this sleigh,” recalls Carla Bronner-Spletzer
Acme Queen Parlor Organ
And if our old pump organ struck a memory chord for you, it may be that you have had the privilege of hearing Mrs. Bronner play at one of the Christmas carol sing-alongs, which took place through 2018.
Bronner’s First Catalog
Indeed, a lot has changed from our first catalog in 1955!
Bronner’s now offers two catalogs, one for our commercial division, which focuses on serving municipalities, businesses and even Hollywood! The second is our popular Christmas Favorites catalog, which features an impressive selection of Christmas ornaments, many that are exclusive designs and many which can be personalized. The catalog also offers stockings, lighted shapes and more. Both of Bronner’s catalogs have grown from just four pages to over 60!
WANT A CATALOG? Sign up for Bronner’s catalog or view online.
Bronner’s First Publication
Though printed mailers and advertisements are not obsolete, they have become less common as marketing advances with the digital age.
With social media we now get to hear YOUR stories and see YOUR ideas – and we can’t get enough!
Vintage European Glass Christmas Ornaments
“How it’s made” buffs and vintage ornament collectors alike are sure to take delight! As you can see, our church-window styled showcases hold an impressive collection of nostalgic, European Christmas ornaments and molds showing the process of ornament creation from the by-gone era.
Look carefully and you’ll see molds matched with their ornaments dating all the way back to 1890!
Bronner’s First Exclusive Ornament Design
Bronner’s has offered thousands of exclusive ornaments since Wally created Bronner’s first design so many years ago. As the selection has grown, so has Bronner’s friendships with exclusive ornament suppliers. Some of those business friendships span as many as three generations and cross the globe!
DID YOU KNOW? Of Bronner’s impressive ornament selection in store, that 20% are our exclusive designs?!
Inspired by that very first, early exclusive, we’ve brought back a modern take you’re sure to love even more! Our Holy Family vintage styled Christmas ornament is still proudly made in Germany and features a nostalgic touch from gold angel hair and a gold paperboard base. (If you find there is nothing like a vintage styled tree, you’ll want to check out our “Vintage Christmas Dream Come True” post, where Bronner’s friends helped us resurrect the charm of trees from an era-gone-by.)
Bring It Back?
Do you want to see us bring back some of these early designs? Let us know in the comments below!