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Little Christmas villages are big

Posted: November 26, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: November 26, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Department 56 section manager Laura Gullas views the display of miniature Christmas buildings at Green Thumb International in Newhall.

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If you stop in for a visit at Green Thumb International in Newhall, you will immediately get a warming and calming sense of Christmas from the artificial Christmas trees, all lit up and delightfully decorated. But a quick right turn will take you into a separate wonderland of tiny delight, in the Dept. 56 section, where an amazing selection of miniature Christmas villages is displayed.

Laura Gullas is the artist behind and caretaker of these little layouts of holiday cheer, and has been since 2005, when she took over from Dean Ritter.

“He showed me the ropes,” she said. “I’ve run it ever since.”

Gullas said she has fun using her imagination and being creative in these setups, and even gets to use her sense of humor with the placement of accessories and the creation of the settings that surround the Dept. 56 items.
For example, she has created a giant wave that threatens Moondoggie’s Board Shop, one of the newer offerings from the company.

Dept. 56 history
Gullas said that Dept. 56 began with only one village, the original Snow Village, in 1976. This village consisted of six buildings that were each purchased separately. After that they added the Dickens’ Village.

“They expanded and expanded,” she said. “In subsequent years they would take out a piece and add a new piece.” This was so the sheer numbers of pieces available would not get too large.

Gullas has a 239-page book, “Department 56 Villages,” that includes photos of all the villages and pieces offered and their prices (at the time it was published). And it also describes the company’s history.

It seems Dept. 56 first appeared in a small flower and garden shop in Minnesota called “Bachman’s.” In the latter half of the 20th century, Bachman’s started taking in and selling giftware imports, which included the Snow Village in 1976, Dickens’ Village in 1984, New England Village and Alpine Village in 1986, and Christmas in the City and Little Town of Bethlehem in 1987.

In 1992, collectors were allowed to invest in the company.

Old and new
Gullas said that the Dept. 56 items got more intricate as time went on. “There’s more detail in the pieces now,” she said. And she explained that the buildings are made of either porcelain or ceramic, with the porcelain allowing the greatest detail.

Green Thumb International carries the classic New England Village, North Pole Village, Dickens’ Village, Snow village and Alpine Village, as well as a number of other “villages” and buildings, including a Snowman House, Elf House, Chick-Fil-A and Harley Davidson shop. And Gullas said the company “introduced a bit of Jim Shore” recently, as well. (A very popular figurine designer.)

As you might expect (or know), Dept. 56 items don’t come cheap. Gullas said a simple “lit house” can run from $75 to $85.

Accessories available at Green Thumb include walls, walks, trees, streetlights and more.

Some sample prices include Two Winter Berry Trees at $18.50, three Twinkling Lit Trees at $32.50, two Westminster Lights at $20, a six-piece Stone Wall at $18, and a Snowman Water Tower at $37.50.

To complete your winter scenes, there are bags of plastic foam “snow” at $7.50 for seven ounces.

Make accessories
Gullas said you can create your own accessories, as well, which she often does. An example would be using small sticks stacked to represent woodpiles, or other twigs used as leafless winter trees.
“It’s a lot of fun to help customers, old and new,” she said. “They ask how I did this, how I did that, and it’s always a simple explanation.”

It’s addicting
Be warned that once you get started with Dept. 56 villages, you get hooked, and new “collectors” are joining the fold all the time.

“I’ve got customers who have 100-plus buildings,” Gullas said. “When they run out of space, they only bring out a select few items, and some of them have specially designed cabinets to hold their collections.”

Open House
Green Thumb hosts a Christmas Open House every year on the second Saturday in November.

At that time the Dept. 56 villages are set up and the items ready for purchase. Gullas said that this year the event “had tons of Dept. 56 giveaways of accessories, houses and trees — and lots of happy winners. They just needed to sign up and be present.”

She said they had more than 400 people come in throughout the day, and provided cookies between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“It will be the same next year, so mark your calendars,” she added.

Get them now
Gullas said that, though she re-stocks some items in the beginning of the holiday season, the Dept. 56 offerings will begin to run thin very soon.

If you want the best selection, Gullas advised to visit the store “right away.”

Green Thumb International is located at 23734 Newhall Ave., Newhall, CA 91321. The phone number is (661) 259-1072. Visit


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