Wonderland Aglow

by Liz Scoville
Photo by Deanna Thomas

Every holiday season, a small shop in Kickapoo is transformed into the region’s largest seller of Christmas ornaments.

For a dozen years, Kightlinger Antiques and Collectibles has been a holiday staple in central Illinois, its Kickapoo shop lit up in Christmas lights and seasonal décor. Visitors from around the Midwest and beyond descend upon this “hidden gem” to bask in the warm glow and seek out festive decorations, in addition to its year-round inventory of antiques, home accessories, lamps and repurposed furniture.

Owner Jim Kightlinger says preparations for this year’s holiday wonderland are well underway… and can take quite a bit of time—and long nights—to perfect. “Last year it was 950 hours [of work],” he declares. “About six in the evening until one in the morning.” Once setup is complete, the shop is a world of lights and ornaments, with trees and tinsel covering nearly every inch of each room. And as they make their way into the homes of satisfied customers, more ornaments are in stock, ready to take their place.

In October, the holiday display debuts at an open house—an event, Kightlinger says, that is bustling with activity from start to finish. “The most we’ve ever had is 3,500 [visitors] in one day,” he explains. “The last two years, we’ve spread the open house over three days because it gets so crowded.”

Every year brings some unique new ornaments, Kightlinger says, and 2016 is no different. He cut the centers out of old vinyl records, for instance, to create a “retro” ornament—no hanging hardware needed. And amidst his seasonal preparations, he came across another item sure to strike a familiar chord with in-state patrons. “We have an Illinois ornament this year… Santa Claus is on a reindeer and all of the Illinois aspects are on it—like the cardinal [state bird] and the [state] flower and tree.”

Kightlinger AntiquesBy the end of the year, the trees are nearly bare, and Kightlinger often donates what few ornaments are left to a worthy cause. But there’s scarcely time for a break: in January, he’ll already be formulating plans for the next season, traveling to showcases to learn about new and developing trends in the ornament world. But no matter what he brings back to the shop, Kightlinger knows his loyal patrons will return year after year to witness the display.

“There are 12 ladies who drive in for our open house from Des Moines, Iowa in two vans,” he notes. “The Botanical Garden usually brings two buses a year, and every once in a while, Peoria Charter Coach [buses] will stop.” Meanwhile, Kightlinger’s mailing list extends well into the Chicago suburbs—with regular visitors from Naperville, Lisle, Oak Brook and more.

This year is ramping up to be his biggest yet, with 140,000 ornaments ready for display—a hefty increase of 20,000 ornaments over last year. Kightlinger says he’s once again excited to mix both old and new, showing thousands of visitors the wonder of the holiday season. a&s

Open daily from 10am to 6pm, Kightlinger Antiques & Collectibles is located at 8320 N. Jackson Street in Kickapoo, Illinois. For more information, call (309) 589-0820.