Businesses bring nostalgic holiday cheer

Bailey Conrad, of Beverly Hills, looks at the merchandise available at Flip Flop Shops & Shoe while at Spanish Springs Town Square in The Villages. The store is one of many retailers and restaurants offering specials throughout The Villages town centers

Nostalgic Christmas sights and sounds will abound throughout The Villages shopping and dining centers this holiday season.

Akin to the Christmas paintings made famous by the late artist Norman Rockwell, hometown businesses are inviting residents to enjoy an old-time Americana shopping experience starting Sunday.

Retailers and restaurants from Spanish Springs to Lake Sumter Landing to Brownwood to Sawgrass Grove are featuring brightly decorated window fronts, while holiday tunes from WVLG AM/FM waft over bustling sidewalks as shoppers grab a festive holiday drink or meal with friends.

“It’s all about our hometown businesses coming together for last-minute holiday shopping and spreading a little Christmas spirit, too,” said Traci Markham, The Villages director of commercial property marketing. “Our hometown business partners are really excited to serve residents, family and friends just like Christmas shopping used to be.”

Restaurants across the community are offering Christmas specials, she said, with festive drinks being served at outdoor bars throughout the day.

Nowhere is the festive spirit more visible than at Flip Flop Shops, adjacent to World of Beer at the Spanish Springs Town Center.

Entrepreneurs and brothers Steve and Ray Bailey have affixed red and green Christmas stockings for store employees Lisa, Alissa, Joey, Connie, Jayda and, of course, the brothers, too.

Like many stores in The Villages, the shoe store features holiday-themed merchandise. Some of its most popular gift buys are red or green Crocs flip-flops and wash-and-wear holiday-decorated slip-on casuals.

“Store traffic is starting to pick up,” Steve said. “We’ve had some good sales, because we’re running specials most of the time.”

The staff at FMK Hospitality Group also unveiled specials to accentuate the Christmas spirit at Coastal Del Mar at Spanish Springs, the Chop House at Lake Sumter Landing, and Harvest and the Blue Fin Grill & Bar at Brownwood, said Phillip Benjamin, FMK’s marketing director.

All four restaurants at the town centers now serve seasonal cocktails beginning when they open at 11 a.m. through closing, Benjamin said.

One step inside the FMK restaurants also reveals the collaborative Christmas spirit of management and staff.

Each restaurant features menorahs, wreaths and Christmas trees adorned with “giving tags,” a tag listing the name of an employee’s child and his or her size and hobby, Benjamin said.

“Then Villagers can grab one these giving tree tags and go shopping for that one little kid and give them something a little extra this Christmas,” he said. “It’s the first year we’ve done It. But the tags are due back by Dec. 20.”

At Coastal Del Mar, store manager Alicia McIntyre found some tiny Santa hats and placed them on the fish-themed wood cutouts at the restaurant, Benjamin said.

“It’s hundreds of little Santa hats,” he said. “She did a really great job decorating them for the holidays.”

Buying local provides “an experience along with your shopping” in contrast with a less personal feel from online retailers and big box stores.

The holiday season is the most critical sales period of the year for many retailers. Online marketing company Constant Contact reports that the majority of small businesses generate roughly 25% of their annual earnings during the final months of the year.

Despite economic struggles facing companies and consumers, such as rising inflation and numerous interest rate hikes, 2023 has seen a massive surge in seasonal spending. And an estimated $73 of every $100 spent locally stays within the community.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the economy. It’s local people serving local people,” said Jeff Muir, director of communications for the Blount Partnership, an economic think tank. “When you spend money with local businesses, you’re supporting your neighbors, you’re supporting your friends.”