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December 04, 2016
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Step Back In Time - Canal Towne Emporium

The Holmes brothers Lyman, left, and Gary, keep holiday traditions alive at the Canal Towne Emporium in Wurtsboro, NY.
TRR photo by Jonathan Fox

For those who have yet to discover Christmas at the Canal Towne Emporium in Wurtsboro, NY, this year looks to be bigger and brighter than ever before. Proprietors Gary and Lyman Holmes have gone above and beyond to bring shoppers a holiday experience that harkens back to a simpler era, keeping a tradition alive that began with their great-great-grandfather in 1869 and has flourished over the course of four generations.

The Christmas Shoppe at Canal Towne is a permanent, year-round installation, added on to the original, historic building, which opened as a general store in 1838, owned and operated by H.R Morris. Purchased by canal boat builder Joseph Holmes in 1870, the enterprise continued to expand, even after the canal closed in 1898. Operating through the years under the guidance of Joseph’s son, Lyman, the store closed its doors in 1958, but remained in the family. Determined to keep the tradition alive, Holmes matriarch Doris decided to reopen in 1976 and sought the guidance of designer Gary Eckhart, who removed past attempts to “modernize” the establishment and restored the original ambiance of a turn-of-the-century emporium.

“This was our mom’s idea,” the Holmes brothers informed, “and it’s far beyond tradition at this point. Our entire family banded together to make the shoppe what it is today. Our desire has always been to make our customers feel the same way we do. Our guests are our family, too.” Specializing in hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind gifts and furnishings, Canal Towne thrives all year ‘round, but once holiday season arrives, the 5,000 square-foot showroom takes on a life of it’s own and has become not only a tradition, but a destination for visitors who often travel hundreds of miles to select treasures that the brothers present for their discerning customers. “We start decorating the second week in November,” they shared.

Master designer Eckhart was seen climbing ladders and putting final touches on trees as the brothers talked about the family’s history. Asked how the traditions have grown through the years, Lyman Holmes grew excited when pointing out Canal Towne’s newest installation, dubbed “Dance of the Light.” Now in its fifth year, the shoppe presents a music and light display presented nightly outside of the building. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving and shown once a night, the show, which features thousands of lights dancing to coordinated music, is “different every year... and lasts for twelve to fifteen minutes.” The holiday display was “the brainchild of Wurtsboro electrician Michael Roosa,” Holmes informed. “Michael began this spectacular display at his own home, but it grew so large in scope that he came to us and asked if he could move the entire operation to Canal Towne.”

Thrilled to become the new home of the illuminated holiday presentation, the brothers readily agreed and a new tradition was born. “Over a mile of wires is involved in the process of creating this magical display,” Gary Holmes observed. “It takes about three weeks, working around the clock to make the store and light show come to life.” Once complete, a visit to Canal Towne is an incredible “step back in time” and offers the public an opportunity to embrace “old-fashioned service, holiday treats and country pleasures” wrapped in a glittery, homespun, stunning display.

“We search for, and discover, hand made gifts and furnishings from all over the world” the brothers shared “but we also take great pride in presenting many fine creations that have been crafted locally by American artisans.” Scouring the countryside for unique offerings, the Holmes brothers begin their search in January every year and make every effort to present previously undiscovered items to their customers, who have come to expect surprises through the years. A visit to Canal Towne will reveal thousands of ornaments, hand-made Santas and wreaths as well as Hanukkah items, hand crafted furniture and decorative accessories.

Open 7 days a week, the Shoppe is located at 107 Sullivan St in Wurtsboro. For more information, call 845/888-2100 or visit