Merchant of Fun & Unsung Hero of Smithfield Music
An interview with Jim Abicht, owner of the Christmas Store in downtown Smithfield, VA
Like many shop owners, Jim Abicht’s love of antiques grew from a hobby into a successful business. Prior to opening the Christmas Store on Main Street in downtown Smithfield in 1994, he ran a small antiques shop on Brewers Neck Blvd., then an antiques mall in his current space, and ran a popular weekly antiques auction in town. That passion for beautiful objects that reflect a bit of history is evident in the Christmas Store today.
Maybe because they feel as if they have truly stepped right into the Holiday Season. Maybe it’s the multi-sensory experience, the gorgeous colors, lights, and nostalgic fragrances and sounds. Maybe they’re not expecting such a large store, with so much to see. Whatever it is, first-time visitors to the Christmas Store say the same thing again and again when they first enter, “Wow!”
“Is there a better place in the world?” replies Jim when asked why he chose to locate his store in Smithfield. “Market research would tell me I’m crazy to have a 5,500 sq. ft. holiday retail store in a town with a population of 7,800, but this is where we want to live and so far it is working.”
And with the largest selection in the state of glass ornaments, and an equally large selection of less breakable ornaments, customers who visit from all over the state and beyond heartily agree. Many have made a pilgrimage to the Christmas Store a special holiday tradition for their family and friends.
But the Christmas Store doesn’t just offer holiday items. “We also bring in all of the other major holidays, quite a bit of coastal items and anything we think is cool that no one else in town will have. We sell absolutely nothing that is essential, just fun stuff,” says Jim.
All types of people visit the shop, “locals and tourists, people looking for a holiday item that they won’t find everywhere, people looking to just spend a couple of bucks, those that money is seldom the determining factor in what they buy, and those that just want a breath of air conditioning in the summer and the comfort of heat in the winter.” And there’s a “warm and sincere welcome” for all from Jim and the staff.
Jim teases that his staff “all love Christmas, all love being helpful, all have good manners, and they all count your change back every time you purchase with cash.” But he claims that one of the perks to owning his own business is that “I haven’t yelled at myself once since I opened.”
Jim’s quirky sense of humor is evident in much of the merchandise he offers. “Not often is there a respectable topic that we don’t have something for it,” he brags. A favorite is definitely the annual pig ornament that Jim has designed and produced just for the Christmas Store. There have been 11 of these ornaments since the series began in 2003. Number 12 is expected to make its debut in September. It’s never too late to start your own collection!
Jim says he and the staff would like to remember all their customers, but one they certainly recall was “the couple that came in to buy a tree and decided to buy it, along with ALL of the ornaments that were on it, and there were lots of them. They also wanted us to come to their house and put it up. That doesn’t happen as often as we would like though.”
Of course, the Christmas Store has a website, but as Jim says, “it’s impossible to have the entire store available online.” So you will just have come by to see this delightful store for yourself.
When asked what Jim does for fun outside of running his business, he says, “Not much.” That’s no surprise given his commitment to Smithfield & Isle of Wight County. Jim serves as the President of the Isle of Wight Arts League, the Director of Smithfield Music, sits on the Board of Directors at the Smithfield Little Theatre, is an active member of the Smithfield 20/20 team and Smithfield VA Events (which sponsors the Smithfield Wine & Brew Fest, Bacon, Bourbon & Beach Music Fest, and BOB Fest & Chilly Bob Roadrace), and is an active participant in other community and church functions.
But there’s no way that we can spotlight Jim Abicht without mentioning his other passion, Smithfield Music. Jim and his lovely wife Elaine are the “unsung heroes” of a program that has donated over $40,000 toward music education in Isle of Wight County since 2005. Jim not only donates this money, he achieves this by producing local concerts right here in Smithfield featuring nationally known songwriters, many of whom have written #1 hits! These remarkable concerts are held throughout the year at the Smithfield Little Theatre or in intimate house concerts. Jim’s passion and commitment to songwriters and musicians comes together with the annual Aiken & Friends Music Fest which Smithfield Music has sponsored each year for the past 10 years. The festival, held the past two years at Windsor Castle Park, features local and regional singer/songwriters in an effort to give them more exposure.
But don’t worry about Jim over-extending himself. When asked about his dream vacation he says, “I’ve been on it a number of times! I go to the Caribbean in the winter and listen to some of my favorite bands and songwriters.” Looks like Smithfield is home to a man who has had his Christmas wishes fulfilled and is living his passions. Visit him today at the Christmas Store. If Jim’s not there, don’t despair, Santa Claus himself just might be!