Meet the Owners of Kringles and Mel’s Hard Luck Diner!

When Silver Dollar IMG_0329City built the Grand Village Shops, over 21 years ago, they couldn’t have imagined how it would grow and evolve. Meet Mr. Mel and Mrs. Liz Bilbo, owners of Mel’s Hard Luck Diner, Kringle’s Christmas Store and Village Treasures, T. Charleston’s book store, and Reflections, a Thomas Kinkade gallery. Yes, you are reading this correctly! They own 4 of the stores at the Grand Village and they were some of the original shop owners, along with Peter Engler, back in 2004. They love the family atmosphere of the village and it’s individual shop owners.

“We love to look out for each other and help each other.” – Mel Bilbo

Looking back on the changes that T. Charleston’s has made since it opened, it is totally apparent that it has become a different store! It was the first of Mel and Liz’s creations.

“The book store has been the store that has evolved the most and that’s just by necessity. Books are so available online and electronically and amazon.com sells them now. Where it was like 80% books when we bought it, its now probably 10-15% books now.” – Mel Bilbo

Now, when you peruse the books at T.Charleston’s you will find books from local authors, books about the Branson area, and a fantastic children’s section with a wide array of books for them. In fact, they have frequent book signings with authors like David Wise; and some big names have signed too: the Osmonds, the Oak Ridge Boys, and others.11227914_493482617478703_9095396961910549359_o

The icon of the Grand Village, is Kringle’s Christmas Store. It evolved from a small shop to the largest Christmas Store in Missouri, but that is not what Mel and his staff promote.

Mel prefers to call it, “the Grandest Christmas store in the Mid-West.”

“We try to really select things that you won’t find in the big box stores or just anywhere on the street. ” – Mel Bilbo

IMG_3350They have so much merchandise that it overflows into T. Charleston’s! And similar to the book signings at T. Charleston’s, Kringle’s hosts many of the Christmas Ornament Artists for signings as well. They carry NeQwa ornaments that are hand-painted from the inside and Emanual Fontanini comes just about every year to sign his nativities that his family makes and has been making for over 100 years now. And…where does Mr. Fontanini eat when he arrives? You guessed it…Mel’s Hard Luck Diner. He always requests the same thing…the chili-cheese burger and the strawberry shake. He’ll be here Thanksgiving Weekend to meet and greet guests at Kringle’s. Guests have been purchasing his nativities since early September so that they can be sure to get one signed during his Thanksgiving appearance! Jim Shore and his brilliant ornament collection have quite the following as well. His artwork probably takes up more space in Kringle’s than any other line. A few years ago, he insisted that the company that represents him, design a Branson ornament. They decided to go for it by producing a small batch of 1,200 and they sold out before the ornament even arrived in the store!

Mel and Liz are no stranger to the meaning of Christmas. In fact, for the past 5 years, they have kept a Christmas tree up in their home year round.

When the grand kids come to visit, it’s the lower branches of ornaments that they can touch and move around and play with. – Liz Bilbo

Mel tells them that when the Christmas lights are off, it’s not Christmas. When the Christmas lights are on, it’s Christmas!

And of course, a trip to Branson isn’t complete without eating at Mel’s Hard Luck Diner! 12038105_491374544356177_1246298075247854205_n

“Liz and I take credit for doing some of it, but we have a good manager and assistant manager there too. Brandon and Elizabeth are doing a great job for us.” – Mel Bilbo

One of the most unique items on the menu is the Peanut Butter and Banana Concoction. It’s on raisin bread.

“That sandwich goes way back in history, Mel says. My mom ordered a cookbook from the sugar company called, My first cookbook.”- Mel Bilbo

The 1st recipe was this simple sandwich that called for margarine on 2 slices of bread, sprinkled with brown sugar. In 2015, we would all scream, That’s not healthy. However, a peanut butter and banana sandwich has always been one of Mel’s favorites and he has evolved the recipe over time to what it is today. The sandwich is drizzled with caramel and served with french fries and a dipping sauce of, you guessed it, more caramel!! #sweetandsalty

12091235_495583623935269_3796123960432891474_oAnd their ice cream is to die for. They truly do make the biggest banana split in Branson, Mo. This thing will definitely feed 5 or 6 people. They use premium ice cream and sprinkles to boot! The Root Beer Malt is great too. It’s made with root beer syrup, liquid malt, and delicious creamy vanilla ice cream. It’s everyone’s favorite.

Mel and Liz have been married for 44 years this month. They met over 60 years ago –

“she was 1 and I was 3, Mel said.”

They were even neighbors at one time during their childhood and they both grew up in Orange, Texas. They have 3 children, 5 grandsons, and have now lived in Branson for 17 years. We are blessed to know them and hope you will take the time to come experience their shops at the Grand Village.

Meet Chad and Therese – Owners of Mulberry Mill – Part One

Chad, you have a great story about your mom and this business. Can you tell us how Mulberry Mill was created? When I first met you guys, you were at Victorian Village and now your family run business has been at Grand Village for 11 years! Your mother was such an inspiration to all of us. How did she develop the flavor for what we now know as Mulberry Mill?

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She always liked fashion. She always liked design. She had an eye for things without knowing that was design. She knew what she liked and this gave her an outlet to put that all together. She and Chad started it together. – Therese

One weekend, we came down to rent a craft booth. I was in college and Mom had just sold out to her partner at the flower shop. She had gone back to school and didn’t know what she was going to do. She even talked about being a doctor at one point. So, we decided for some extra money, we would rent a craft booth at Apple Tree Mall. I was going to cut some stuff out of wood and she was going to paint it. So we came down to Branson, set up the booth, and when we were leaving town, we drove by a new place in town, the Victorian Village. We drove up and around to see what was there and met a man named, Jerry Crawford. He came out one of the doors and he stopped us. It was early March, so most things weren’t even going yet. He thought we were looking for a certain store in there -Chad

“are you looking for someone in there?”, he asked. “If so,  I will find them.”

No, I said, we just hadn’t seen this building yet, and we are just driving around.

“Well, what brought you to town?”, Jerry asked.  We just opened a craft booth. “What you ought to do, is, instead of opening a booth, you ought to open a whole store. I’ve got some spots down here. Let me show you one.”

“No, we are just doing the craft booth.”

“What’s it gonna hurt? I’ve got the key here, you’ll go down and take a look at it. You don’t have to tell me yay, nay or anything. Just look at this spot”, said Jerry.

“So, we agreed and went down to look at the spot, because he was so persistent. On the way home, we thought, we could do that. So, the next morning, we called Jerry and said Ok, we’ll take that spot.”

He said, “I knew you were going to take that spot.” (Laughing)

And it’s evolved over the years. When I first visited your store, you just had lots of dishes and lots of samples and a bit of home decor things. Now you have evolved and have clothing and so much more.  You really have something for everyone.

“It started out with Lighthouses and Croaky Frogs.” – Therese

“They used part of Chad’s college money to buy the first inventory. Hey Mom, here’s my college money. I’d rather do this. And…the first inventory was like these little lighthouses and these frogs that sat on the counter and everyone would push them and they would croak and go crazy. They also carried jewelry and stared in 1000 sq feet. Then it got to be more collectibles because at that time everyone wanted precious moments, collectibles, that kind of thing.”

You guys always seem like you are a step ahead. You’ve got quite a following in the gourmet food industry.  What is your best seller?

IMG_9557“They change with the seasons. We used to sell lemon curd – we were the biggest sellers of lemon curd in the US. We had these companies calling from England asking how we were selling so much lemon curd in the middle of Missouri?  We just did. Then it was Pecan Pepper Jelly.  Now it’s Salted Caramel Cocoa. The company that makes the cocoa is actually doing an International article on us, because we can sell so much Salted Caramel Cocoa.” – Therese

Does your Dad still work in the shop?

Yes, every day. – Chad

So you can always see someone from the Mulberry Mill family at the store all the time. Do you think your son will ever run the business?

I don’t think so. (chuckle) – Chad.

I hope not. I hope he finds his own path. – Therese

Give us a Teaser for the Holidays. What can shoppers expect when they visit your store this Christmas season?

“This year we have a couple of different looks. One is the chalkboard look which will include traditional colors of red, green, and black. Then, there is this funky kind of retro Vespa trailers and this nostalgic collection of Christmas. And, as always, we will sell snowmen like crazy.” – Therese

“And of course all the foods for the parties.” – Chad

Do you put together gift baskets?

“Yes, we do gift baskets. Even small buckets of things. For instance, if an office manager calls and says, “I have 8 people in my office, can you make something little for each?” We can do that too.” – Therese

Meet Russ and Diane – Owners of Dickens Gift Shoppe!

We sat down with Russ & Dianne (Dickens) Call the other day to talk about how they got involved in retail and what makes Dickens Gift Shoppe at the Grand Village in Branson, Mo. unique.

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Retail has been in our family for generations. – Dianne Dickens Call

What changes have you made to the store since you moved from the 76 strip to the Grand Village?

“The size has gone down. We are probably a 10th the size of our old store. Our main thing is customer service. We love to talk to the people and just have fun. People are finding us now.”

You are obviously known for your homemade fudge and that fudge is really good.

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“Yes. Once you try it, you’re not going to leave without some. Becca, my daughter, wants to continue on in the business and she is the one that is making the fudge right now.”

Let’s talk about your taffy. We seem to see a lot of comments about your taffy on social media.

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“We get our salt water taffy in every week from a company in Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s why it always tastes fresh. We offer a lot of different flavors too. We have chili mango, waffles and chicken, there’s an extreme hot, that to me kinda tastes like red hots, and we of course carry the vanilla, chocolate, and banana. Banana being our number one top seller.”

This year, you have expanded in to some of the most fun clothes and accessories I have seen. And the Gingersnaps are so much fun and versatile. Tell us about your new lines.

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“Yes, you can switch them out (Gingersnaps). So, if you have snaps on your fingerless gloves – in the summertime, you can remove them and put them on your necklace, or earrings. It’s very afforadable and you can do a lot with them.”

Russ, you have worked at the store for a long time. What has your name on it or hits your hot buttons?

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“The lawn and garden area is my passion. I came from running lawn and garden at the old location. We have an excellent line of chimes, made in the USA in Virginia – the people that sell them to us are great people. They are great to work with and we have done business with them for years. The company boasts multiple generations of chime makers. The chimes come with a 5 year factory warranty, so the folks really stand behind their work. Also, the ever changing market in lawn and garden is very interesting. We don’t know where it’s going, but we do know that people like to decorate their house; they like to decorate their yards, and we want to be there for them.”

Dianne, if Becca, your daughter, takes over the business, it will be your 4th generation in retail?

“Yes, she has worked with me since she was 13 and she is now 29. She has literally been making fudge since she was 13 years old. Plus, my granddaughter also wants to take over my job. I told her, anytime now!”

We think that is something special about the Grand Village. The shops at the Grand Village are special because they have generations of families that have worked and currently work together in the shops. These are Family and operated, local businesses.

“It’s different. It’s not a corporate business. It’s difficult working with family, but in the end it’s a good thing.” – Dianne

Happy Anniversary Branson Cigar Company

In business for almost 1 year, the Branson Cigar Company calls the Grand Village Shops in Branson, Mo. home. Owner, Jeff Seay has been serving Branson businesses for 25 years through his companies, Branson Security & Fire and Branson Fire Extinguisher. However, in 2013, like many of the tourists that come to Branson, Mo., he decided to take a motor home vacation down the East Coast of the US from New York to Key West. What he discovered in every tourist town was that there was always a cigar shop. When he returned home, he quickly went to work developing his own Cigar Store.

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The Branson Cigar Company is a Humi-Store, which means that the entire store is totally humidified using a medical grade humidifier. The shop maintains a temperature of 70 degrees with 70% humidity. This keeps the inventory of cigars fresh. And speaking of cigars, The Branson Cigar Co. carries cigars from all over the world, including places like Nicaragua, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic.

Now, on November 1, 2014, the Branson Cigar Company will celebrate 1 year in business. “I have always served the businesses that serve the tourists. Now, I get to serve the tourists directly and I like that”, says Jeff. Also on November 1, 2014, the Branson Cigar Co will begin carrying a unique line of jewelry made by one of the Cigar Brands, Matt Booth, Room 101 Brand. This Cigar store at the Grand Village will be the ONLY store in Southwest Missouri to carry this new exclusive jewelry line for men which has been worn by celebrities all over the US. This rugged and trendy line includes bracelets, necklaces, dog tags, and cufflinks. Jeff and his team are excited to be celebrating their 1st year in business and hope that you will celebrate with them.

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-Erin Wicker

The Grand Village Shops

Grand Glitz – Where Unique is Normal

IMG_3573Fall is here. The air is turning crisp and cool and this girl is ready for some new fall fashion. I stopped by the Grand Glitz this week to take a look at their fall merchandise and here is what happened….I wanted one of everything!

You know the saying, “Shop til you drop”? I didn’t think it was possible until now. You see, Grand Glitz carries name brands like Christine Alexander who uses SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS in her clothing line,. Yes, that’s bling ladies. They carry Brighton handbags and accessories, Alegria shoes, Anuschka purses, Angora Jackets and, if that isn’t enough to tempt your shopping urges, they also have a very lovely display of Jimmy Crystal New York jewelry. Can you say, Gorgeous?

They are running a FALL Special right now too. If you purchase a pair of boots, you get a pair of slippers for FREE. Trust me ladies, this is the perfect place to update your fall wardrobe.

See you at the Grand Village Shops in Branson, Mo.

– Erin Wicker

Mulberry Mill – My Happy Place

IMG_3459Silly question…Are you hosting family or friends at your home this holiday season? Yea, me too. And, like you, I want to make it really special. Where do I go for the best in gourmet foods, dips, and sauces?- Mulberry Mill at the Grand Village Shops in Branson, Mo. – In business since 1995, Mulberry Mill carries hundreds of flavors of dips and spices from sweet to savory and everything in between. They are also Branson’s best place to find gourmet coffees, teas, and ciders with endless flavors to choose from and they offer “Tastings Daily”.

But, that’s not all. They have a beautiful boutique brimming with the latest in fashion and accessories. You will find handmade scarves, jewelry, bath and body products, and my personal favorite….Trendy Home Decor. Shopping at Mulberry Mill is an experience. And..if that isn’t enough to entice your senses, know that each time you visit, you will be greeted with a warm smile and excellent customer service!

2014 Fall Decor
2014 Fall Decor

IMG_3428Mulberry Mill is definitely my happy place and I invite you to check it out on your next visit to Branson, Mo.

– Erin Wicker

Grand Village Shops

Experience Branson Shopping at its finest with Taylor Bleu

Experience Branson Shopping at its finest with Taylor Bleu at the Grand Village Shops in Branson, Mo. Taylor Bleu offers the latest styles in handbags, wallets, jewelry, outerwear, scarves, and belts with plenty of BLING for everyone. They carry styles for men and women and they have monthly specials on fine leather products and purses that won’t break your wallet.

At Taylor Bleu, you will always find something new and this September, they have new Fall Merchandise arriving daily. Stop in and find gorgeous accessories for your fall wardrobe.

-Grand Village Reporter, Erin Wicker

Explore one-of-a-kind shops in a quaint little village where magic and memories lie behind every door.

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