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SMC alumna opens Christmas store

Southwestern Michigan College alumna Melissa (Clanton) Gunn Nov. 1 opened Deck the Halls in downtown Dowagiac, where it will be her favorite holiday year-round. Ornaments by Bronner’s in Frankenmuth — “the world’s largest Christmas store” — and Old World Christmas Factory in Spokane, Wash., cover an entire wall.

Gunn also stocks an array of holiday-related merchandise, including wreaths, stockings, towels, housewares, pillows, potpourri, lighted bottle stoppers, tree toppers, Caldrea aromatherapeutic home products, children’s gift sets pairing books and stuffed animals (or Oliver the Ornament) and Michigan State and University of Michigan snowmen.

There are unique gift items, too.

How about a “Santa evidence kit” to dust the crime scene after a certain red-suited intruder breaks in Christmas Eve?

Or Wick-ed Pop Candles, “handmade in Niles, where pop culture is a way of life.”

Each candle features a line from your favorite holiday movie (“You’ll shoot your eye out!” from 1983’s A Christmas Story) and a scent a friend created exclusively for Deck the Halls (blending citrus, cinnamon and “Eighties nostalgia”). Elf combines candy canes, candy corn and syrup.

Niles is Gunn’s hometown, where she graduated from high school in 2002. She came to SMC to study music theatre, then changed her major to communications for her associate degree.

Gunn was named SMC student activities coordinator in 2004 while still a work-study student, then received a staff position in 2005 and also worked at the college as a recruiter and an Early College coordinator.

The former Herald-Palladium account executive also earned a 2008 bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Bethel College.

“I was working part-time at the college while going to Bethel,” Gunn said.

In 2015 she mounted a write-in campaign for city clerk.

“I am a Christmas addict,” said Gunn, who decorates four trees in her own home. “I’ve always had the idea in the back of my head, but didn’t know if it was possible.”

Labor Day weekend she uttered the words aloud and was surprised Jeff responded, “‘Do it!’ So here it is! It all fell into place. I hope to be around for a long time.”

“I moved out of my parents’ house to Dowagiac three or four years before I met Jeff. I choose to live here,” Gunn said.

Gunn, active in the Young Professionals which sponsors fireworks and other social events, loves Dowagiac almost as much as Christmas, which wins plaudits from Mayor Donald Lyons.

“This is not a pop-up, it’s a commitment to downtown Dowagiac. She plans to have this store year-’round except it will be closed in January,” Lyons said. “I couldn’t be more pleased because it’s a young person. I love that. That’s our future and where we need to be cultivating, encouraging and supporting. It’s been my pleasure to see what the Young Professionals have brought to our community.”

“They are multi-faceted entrepreneurs,” Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce President Kim MacGregor said, referring to Gunn’s ownership of the corner building at 102 Commercial St. formerly occupied by Alice Swann’s tailor shop as well as Olympia Books in the block south on Front Street.

Deck the Halls’ hours are Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., plus she wants to try some Sunday times with the Chamber’s Open House Weekend Nov. 10-12, the Candlelight Christmas Parade Dec. 1 and Breakfast with Santa Dec. 16.

Her phone number is easy to remember — “783-Christmas” (1225).