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The Yankee Express

MCU ‘Deck the Halls’ typifies different holiday season this year

Dec 18, 2020 10:42AM ● By Rod Lee

For obvious reasons, there will be no Chain of Lights celebrations this year in the towns of Millbury and Sutton. Fortunately in Millbury, the local credit union is introducing “Deck the Halls”—a community-wide home-decorating contest.

Meanwhile, Grafton switched gears with amended holiday festivities on December 6 that were to include “Frosty Stops and a visit with Santa drive-through style, a Holiday Fair to shop local with pre-ordering and curbside pickup,” and a map of festooned homes and businesses “for viewing and voting.”

In other words, the holiday spirit is strong in the Blackstone Valley’s northernmost communities, as it is as well within the ranks of hometown retailers who are striving mightily to keep the customers coming in.

“Everyone has been very supportive,” Carol Dauphinais of the Grafton Country Store said in her shop, nestled next to the Grafton Town Common, on December 4. “We have pivoted our business to make it work.”

One way the Grafton Country Store has done this is by hosting “private shopping, after-hours.” Another gambit is by touting its abundant inventory with posts and videos on Facebook. Such Christmastime-themed merchandise as coasters, a Simon Pearce evergreen tree, jars of Ken Warchol honey, chocolate bombs, wire poinsettia ornaments, rustic Marlin signs, handmade wool mittens and copper-beaded garland are why the store is holding its own despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

“We can have only sixteen customers in the store at any one time,” Ms. Dauphinais said. “We are working three times as hard to sanitize and clean.”

Official announcements of the cancellations of this year’s Chain of Lights activities were accompanied by statements of regret. In Sutton’s case it was “we have unfortunately had to cancel the Chain of Lights. Save the date for 2021: Saturday, December 4.” Millbury’s Chain of Lights committee expressed “great disappointment” in also having to scrap its version, adding in a September 30 reveal on Facebook “see you in 2021 for an even bigger and better [production]!” 

In the absence of a Chain of Lights event in Millbury this year, Millbury Federal Credit Union has stepped up to fill the void by sponsoring “Deck the Halls” for the first time, according to Mary Krumsiek.

MCU has asked residents to decorate their homes for the holidays and is offering prizes of $250 for first, $200 for second and $100 for third in recognition of the winning entries.

Judging is scheduled to take place December 19 and 20, Ms. Krumsiek said.

“It’s something new we wanted to try this year,” she said. “Just residential this time, and the homes will be judged by various people from town.”

Christmas is always in season of course at Vaillancourt Folk Art in Sutton and the Vaillancourt family is again showering its display area with items that reflect the warmth of the season, including chalkware rabbits, a German Herrnhut Plastic White Moravian Star Chain, its 2020 Ornament Collection and a variety of Santa figures.

Throughout the store, thirty-five life-sized trees invite customers to think creatively about how they will embellish their own Christmas tree.

Like the Grafton Country Store, the Saddle Shed in Grafton was closed for three months by the virus and business is “obviously slow,” Leah Waylaian and Ms. Waylaian’s daughter Zayda Waters said.

“People are still coming in, they’ve bought a horse and looking for a saddle,” Ms. Waylaian said. “I can’t believe how many people are buying horses!” She attributed this to people staying home and making the most of it.

Ms. Waylaian hopes the Saddle Shed can stay open all winter. “I will definitely continue curbside” even if she is forced to shut down temporarily, she said.

Ms. Waylaian followed the path of other small businesses in applying for paycheck protection assistance from the government “but it was so confusing and so volatile I told them to take it back. I did a grant and I’m probably going for another. I’m fortunate in that my parents own this property.”

“This is our 40th-anniversary year,” Ms. Dauphinais said after waiting on several customers. Her energy and optimism are ever-present at the Grafton Country Store and a big reason for its ongoing success, six years into her run as proprietor.

“If you make it through December, you’ll be golden,” she said.


Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.