There used to be an appliance store way down at the end of South Central Avenue -- past Buckeye Road, and across from the police station -- called Camp Appliances. And one December, about a decade ago, it briefly became a vintage Christmas decorations store.
Piled on and around the used Frigidaires and washer-dryer combos were small mountains of gently used holiday stuff from the '50s and '60s. Back then I was maniacally collecting such things, and I visited Camp three times in the space of a week. I got 17 different boxes of glass Shiny Brites; two still-in-the-package tree toppers (one of them a leering, winking African American Santa, circa 1969), an unopened box of well-tarnished silver tinsel, and enough loose tree ornaments to choke a reindeer.
I waited until after the New Year to tell everyone I knew about my cool find. I wasn't sure I wasn't going to go back to Camp one last time and, I reasoned, if I kept this secret to myself until Christmas had passed, there'd be more stuff for me to pick through in the meantime.
My collector friends were dubious. Some of them, who prided themselves on knowing where all the cool vintage stuff was being sold, flat out refused to believe me.
"An appliance store?" my friend Michael, who owned several antique shops, asked doubtfully.
"Yes!" I exclaimed. "We should go next year!"
But that next year, Camp wasn't selling holiday anything. The only old thing they had for sale was a harvest gold trash compactor from 1972. And the nice man who worked there didn't speak much English. He was confused about my questions about Feliz Navidad.
"Uh-huh," my friends said, collectively, about the vanishing vintage holiday store. "Sure." My cool find was dismissed as a Christmas mirage.
So, when my editor called last week to tell me she'd found a secret place in an obscure downtown location that sold holiday décor, I knew it was because she'd heard me tell my Camp Appliance story a dozen or more times over the years, sometimes tearfully.
"I believe you," I told her, remembering my friends' skepticism. "Where is it?"
It turns out that clunkily titled Holiday Lights Decorating, which I finally found on a dead-end street in a scary southeast warehouse district, truly is a secret--at least to the Christmas-junk-obsessed people I mentioned it to. No one had heard about it. But it doesn't look like this massive and super-organized megastore is going to turn into a used appliance store come December 26.
Holiday Lights Decorating is sort of the retail version of that guy on your block who kills himself every year coming up with a new kid-themed Christmas display for his front yard--the guy who boasts, "Yep, this here Snoopy Meets Frosty display has 74,839 flicker lights in it!" In fact, Holiday Lights Decorating makes that guy superfluous; now, any poor slob with a credit card can blanket their home in an over-the-top Christmas display, installed and later removed and (if you buy rather than rent the giant plastic reindeer and colossal inflatable snow globe) stored for you by these holiday geniuses.
Want a 30-foot, fully-lighted Rudolph on your front lawn? Or a nativity at which both Santa and Elmo appear? This is the place to find them.
I did not tell the nice man I talked to at Holiday Lights Decorating that I wanted very much to rename the business he worked for. Instead, I asked him if I could have anything I wanted.
"Sure," he replied. "We do all kinds of custom orders."
When I got home, I called Holiday Lights Decorating. "I would like a seven-foot-tall diorama, made entirely of amber twinkle lights, depicting Joan Blondell mating with a Hanukkah bush," I said. "And Joan needs to be wearing a poncho and mistletoe-shaped earrings."
Without any discernible pause, the woman on the phone asked, "When would you need that by?"
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"Oh, by Christmas Eve, of course," I replied.
"We would need more time than that for any special order," she told me.
I thought about this for a moment. "Do you sell trash compactors?" I asked.