Two Santa Fe Christmas stores, across street from each other downtown, thrive year-round

December 21, 2018

The holidays happen all the time on one block of Palace Avenue, where a pair of dueling Christmas shops don’t see it as a duel at all.

Susan Topp Weber has plied Christmas in her tiny Susan’s Christmas Shop at Sena Plaza since 1979 (she started on Lincoln Avenue in 1978 but moved to her current 188.5 square feet the following year).

Across the street, The Shop – A Christmas Store has been in place since 1977, first as an antique store with a small Christmas corner that grew over the years until antiques gave way to full-time Christmas in 1990. Rick and Janice Griego have owned the shop since 2002; Rick started working for original owner Ed Berry in 1983.

Somehow, the concept of Christmas 365 days a year succeeds as a business model downtown, where for 40 years, Susan’s Christmas Shop and The Shop – A Christmas Store don’t compete so much as complement one another.

“We send a lot of people over there,” Janice Griego said. “We don’t have those German candles she has.”

“We are compatible,” Weber agreed. “We have sent people across the street. It’s a good way for customers to compare.”

Considering the two shops focus on Christmas, the contrast between them is striking.

Susan’s Christmas Shop fits thousands of ornaments and figurines in a space that measures less than 20 by 10 feet. Most items for sale are about 1 to 3 inches in height.

“Can you believe I have 10 employees?” Weber asked.

Across the street, The Shop is comparatively spacious — 1,700 square feet — though the Griegos lament it’s jammed too tight with holiday merchandise. They have 40 artificial trees festooned with ornaments. The trees are the store’s “shelves.” Some shoppers, however, are reluctant to pluck ornaments from the trees.

“ ‘You want me to undecorate your tree?’ ” Janice Griego recalls plenty of customers saying.

“Please do,” is her answer.

Across the street, Susan’s Christmas Shop has but one very small tree. Weber’s small ornaments and figures are on shelves built into the walls.

One secret to stretching Christmas across the year is both shops enlist oodles of local artists to craft their holiday décor. Weber works with 120 local vendors, and the Griegos have about 40 local artists on board.

Santa Fe artist Ross Tapia has created thousands of origami ornaments for The Shop in the past eight years. Since the beginning, they have been displayed on black cube shelves right at the cash registers.

“They fly off the shelves,” Tapia said.

When Tapia first approached the Griegos, Rick Griego told him: “We can start with three dozen.” They sold out in about two days.

Essentially, these Christmas shops are no different than the many downtown shops that capitalize on drawing tourists with work by Northern New Mexico artisans.

Both shops also have a secret weapon.

“Two words: The Shed,” Weber said of the nearby uber-popular eatery.

Both shops have a roughly half-and-half mix of customers who spontaneously walk in and those who plan specific Christmas shopping missions before leaving their homes across the country or around the world.

Janice Griego said many of her repeat customers come from Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and California.

“We come to your shop to buy Christmas ornaments every year,” she said she hears frequently.

For her part, Weber has written several Christmas ornament books. Her first book, Christmas in Santa Fe, was the shopping target of Mina Goff, traveling down from Morrison, Colo., a Denver suburb.

“I came all the way from Colorado for your store,” she told Weber on Wednesday.

Both shopkeepers say they travel to trade shows in the dead month of January. Weber packs her passport and heads to the Christmas wholesale market in Frankfurt, Germany, and continues on to Vienna and elsewhere. The Griegos go to the Dallas Holiday & Home Expo to find decorations unlikely to turn up in a big box store.

Susan’s Christmas Shop has an eclectic mix of German, Austrian and Russian decoration along with items from Ecuador, Peru and El Salvador. It also features Navajo, Hopi and Acoma artisans. Along with all the traditional decorations, Weber also has a small section dedicated to dog ornaments.

“The dog collection is exploding,” Weber said. “People love ornaments that look like their dogs.”

The Shop has themed trees: anything from ornaments for music, doctors and lawyers to firefighters, the military and sports.

“We have one tree that’s just Day of the Dead ornaments,” Janice Griego said.

The Griegos say they get away with sticking pretty much to Christmas all year, though they do have a small Halloween case. They thrive by following the tourism seasons of the rest of the downtown merchants: Easter, the Santa Fe Opera, the markets … and of course, Christmas.

“People are looking for handcrafted items,” Rick Griego said. “When people are buying handcrafted items, you’re buying a piece of art, and that’s what people want.”

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