Grand Rapids 2 bars go all out to show their Christmas spirit Decorations transform bars into holiday wonderlands

By Zane McMillin

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) -- Thomas Schuitema jokes Grand Rapids-area residents don't have to travel far to reach the North Pole -- they need only stop into his Broadway Bar & Grill.

For 18 years, Schuitema has decked nearly every square inch of the walls and any surface not used for eating with seemingly every conceivable Christmas decoration.

He has a flair for animatronic figures, with a singing Santa belting out holiday songs, and singing Bing Crosby and Dean Martin figures to boot. And then there is the model train set near the bar's entrance. Outside, a giant, inflatable Frosty the Snowman atop the bar's roof greets customers.

"It's my holiday," Schuitema said.

He said his affinity for going all out with Christmas decor stems from his childhood. Schuitema's parents divorced when he was 4, and Christmas was not as special a time as it could have been.

"I've been trying to get it back ever since," Schuitema says of lost childhood Christmases. "And this is my way of doing it."

Schuitema starts decorating right after Halloween, with a goal of setting aside time each day until Thanksgiving to set up decorations.

He adds to his collection by scouring sites online such as eBay. And, because his birthday is several weeks before Christmas, his gifts typically are new decorations.

Not far from Broadway Bar, The Kopper Top bar and restaurant sits unassumingly on the corner of Stocking Avenue and Fourth Street with some garland and Christmas lights strung outside.

Inside, though, owner Don Brown has taken the garland and lights theme and run with it. Some 8,000 lights illuminate what during the summer months is a much more dimly lit establishment.

The lights reflect off hanging tinsel, which is intertwined with more garland that wraps around the various posts between the bar's booths. Other odds and ends grace the walls, including blinking reindeer and bells.

The rampant decoration is a chapter taken from the bar's previous owners, Brown said, and customers' warm reception to the hodgepodge has kept it a tradition.

"We like to say that we're tastefully tacky," Brown said with a laugh. "Seeing how the people react and how much they enjoy it, just happiness that it brings, that's probably my favorite part."

Both Broadway and Kopper Top keep the festivities rolling into the new year, with decorations brought out for Valentine's Day sometime in January.

Published: Thu, Dec 1, 2011