Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823
By Serge Bielanko
My heart is freaking out in my chest as I stare at a plastic Santa Claus perched atop a silvery glitter rooftop.
He’s going for like five bucks and although I’m trying to be a little more reserved this year with my addiction to vintage Christmas decorations - I only have so much room in my house, you know - three seconds later he’s balanced at the top of the heap of stuff I’ve already got in my shopping basket.
He needs a home. And that home is mine.
I’m standing in the back of the Faith Centre Thrift Store (110 W. High Street) in downtown Bellefonte and I’m a hot mess. My hands are shaking and I can feel my top lip quivering the way that a top lip quivers when it is stuck to the face of a man possessed.
Because that’s what I am, you see. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a Christmas decoration junkie. I can’t explain it; maybe it’s the nostalgia of it all; maybe it’s the fact that I still think Christmas Eve is the best night of the year by far. Or maybe it’s simply the fact that, no matter where I’ve lived in my 45 years on Earth, I’ve always had this gut feeling that when I first walk into my cold kitchen on any December morning I deserve to feel like I’ve just walked into some long lost Manhattan Macy’s holiday window display from 1959.
Whatever it is, I have continued to haunt flea markets and thrift store across half the world in my never-ending quest to hunt down kitschy vintage Christmas décor. I love it. I need it. I’ll leave it to my kids when I die. Whatever.
Everything was moving along at a reasonable pace for a long time there. I had my addiction pretty much under control.
Then four years ago I moved to Centre County and discovered this town of Bellefonte.
And that’s when things got way out of control.
With its numerous antique shops and second-hand stores, it only took me one visit to this town to understand that I would never ever have to wander again. The search for my beloved vintage Christmas décor was over.
It’s all here.
And that’s why I’m never ever leaving.
I walk out of Faith Centre Thrift Store with two heavy bags loaded down with fake holly vines and snowman candles from the ‘70s and some kind of giant cardboard Santa doing a massive split. I toss the bags in the trunk of my car and head on over to my first visit to that museum of old magnificence known as Victorian House Antiques (107 S. Allegheny Street) and talk to owner, Mitch Bradley, who has had the place for almost 12 years. He tells me that December is always a great month for him and his shop. I tell him I can believe it, he’s got more fascinating and one-of-a-kind things for sale than imaginable. Plus, he’s got a real Santa sleigh parked out front on the sidewalk. That’s the kind of shop he’s running.
At the sprawling, excellent Great Mish Mosh (128 S. Allegheny Street) I make my way through some of the coolest vintage furniture and décor I’ve ever seen and end up finding myself a ceramic pair of kissing Clauses, Santa and the Mrs. I buy those two for a fiver and move on, a grown man thrilled by the prospects of kissing Clauses up on top of his kitchen cabinets!
I end my morning search by winding my way through Plaza Centre Antique Gallery (124 W. High Street).
There isn’t much I can even really say about this place, this institution of second-hand joy. Words fail me. For someone who digs the past, for anyone who digs seeking out a small piece of history to put in their big Victorian home (someone else) or in their pretty small Millheim one (me!), this place never ever lets you down.
And for the vintage Christmas decoration hound, well, let’s just say that I have to force myself to leave the Plaza after an hour. I buy myself a fantastic vintage New York City Christmas bulb and get out of dodge.
I roll up the hill and out of Bellefonte, my trunk full of holiday decorations from long ago, and I’m feeling like a kid on Christmas morning.
Maybe that’s why I collect this stuff, huh?
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