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It’s Almost March - Time for Aunt Jody’s Christmas Bank

February 24, 1986

ROSSVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ With just 299 days until Christmas, a lady who resembles Mrs. Santa Claus will begin Saturday to help customers select yuletide decorations Saturday at a store that used to be a bank.

The Christmas Bank has unusual Christmas items from around the world, some displayed in the original bank vault and others on the marble teller’s counter.

The items vary from a 75-cent tree ornament to a $400 German nutcracker, and each was selected and displayed by the proprietor, who calls herself Aunt Jody.

She wears her silver hair in a bun, and is clad in high-button shoes, a white vest, red blouse and a gold Santa-and-reindeer pin.

″I just have a special place in my heart for Christmas,″ she said.

She is not alone. The visitor’s book shows that customers have come from all 50 states and from as far away as Greenland and New Zealand, from March through December. She closes for a few months after Christmas to take buying trips around the country.

Aunt Jody said people are buying earlier now and looking for items of quality.

″I call these things ‘keepers,’ the heirlooms of tomorrow,″ she said.

One corner of the store is filled with nutcrackers - hand-painted wooden soldiers from Germany and Spain, much too delicate and expensive for use on a pecan shell. And there is a room devoted to Tasha Tudor, a Vermont artist who writes stories and designs country Christmas cards.

Nativity scenes come in a variety of sizes and styles, from a small $60 dough-art creation from Ecuador to a huge $910 papier-mache scene from Italy, ″sold mostly to churches,″ she said.

Mobiles hang from the ceiling, featuring angels made from wood shavings and feathers. Other angels with expressive wax faces and rich clothes fill the shelves.

The original bank vault, with its shiny nickel-plated bars, protects a display of gold and silver garlands, ornaments and candy coins. Some are in old Federal Reserve mint bags.

One wall is covered with traditional European ″smokers″ - detailed wooden carvings of drummer boys, beer-drinkers and shepherds. Incense is burned inside the figures and the smoke emerges from their mouths.

″I never buy sight unseen,″ said Aunt Jody, turning an Austrian glass paperweight over to allow the snow inside to fall on a tiny scene.

″I have to see the real thing - shake it or whatever,″ she said.

Aunt Jody set up shop in 1972 in this Eastern Illinois town of 1,400, which began converting its largely abandoned downtown into antique and specialty shops.

Originally, she sold crafts, quilts, ice cream and toys, but decided to open a tiny Christmas room and offer a few decorations that other merchants had left over. Customer response was so great that Aunt Jody had to look for larger quarters.

″The First National Bank of Rossville had been empty for 10 months and when I stepped inside, I knew the challenge was here,″ she said.

Aunt Jody combs the country for the special Christmas items, and two clerks handle the sales, which are steady through the year and ″just keep building″ as Christmas nears.

Some people are just looking for antiques in Rossville and come in the Christmas Bank by accident. Others come specifically to find a rare nutcracker or angel.

″We sell enough to pay the rent and the help,″ said Aunt Jody. ″If it wasn’t profitable, I wouldn’t be able to open up.″

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