When Silver Dollar City 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.
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
They 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!
“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
And 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.