OMAHA — Visions of sugarplums will soon cost a dollar at an opulent Christmas store whose owner decided to start charging admission because she's packing in so many customers.
Pat Opstein, owner of 12-25, said the fee during peak weekend store hours beginning Friday would help keep crowds from creating gridlock in aisles lined with ornaments, toys, gifts and a $50,000 "Arctic Prince" display, complete with mirrored sleigh and jeweled reindeer.
Opstein said she decided to charge for entry--the fee's refundable for those making a purchase--recently after more than 500 people crowded in, barely able to move, and there were still more people lined up outside.
"We don't like to have more than 150 people in the store at one time," she said. "With the theatrical lights, bad air conditioning, it gets like a sauna."
Opstein and designer Lonnie Hanzon said they don't expect the fee to keep many customers away from the store, which features three light shows, displays ranging from carrousel horses to a bride Christmas tree, and more than $1 million in merchandise.
"We put an announcement ad in the paper saying we were going to start charging, and the day after all these people came and lined up with their dollars in hand, smiling," Hanzon said. "We had to tell them we didn't want them yet."
There have been some negative responses, Hanzon said, but "we had customers telling us they were glad."
Opstein and Hanzon said more than 100,000 people have visited 12-25 store since it opened Sept. 27. It's scheduled to wind up its first Christmas season Dec. 24.
Kathy Chiesa of Omaha, who was browsing in the store for free Tuesday, said a visit would be worth $1.
"It's a very unique store," she said.
Martha Dollison of Atlantic Beach, Fla., said the fee would have kept her from coming in in the first place, but now that she's seen it she'd come back.
"I've seen lots of Christmas stores around the country--this is wonderful," she said.
At Tannenbaum, another Christmas store in Omaha, owner Jan Banker said it always gets busy during the holiday season.
"I don't want to comment on what they're doing but we would not ever consider charging admission to our store," she said.