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Shoul’s store to switch on Christmas lights in three weeks – but popular countdown axed again amid Covid fears

By Gemma Handy

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It’s been a staple of the country’s festive scene for generations. And next month, the Shoul’s store on Newgate Street will once again set St John’s ablaze with vibrant lights when it switches on its much-loved Christmas decorations on December 8.

Work is already underway erecting the familiar nativity, Santa’s workshop, reindeer and stars displays – a slew of old favourites after a second year of pandemic tumult.

To avoid the risk of Covid contagion, the much-loved countdown which traditionally attracts hundreds of people will be shelved for the second year running. But the eagerly anticipated discounts on gifts and toys that come into effect at the same time will remain in place.

“We want to be very careful with the Covid situation,” co-owner David Shoul told Observer. “While it seems to be under control, we don’t want to do anything that causes a spike.”

The store’s famed lights date back to 1974 when they started life with a single Christmas tree and a Santa. By the late 90s, the display had evolved to rival those seen in many major cities worldwide.

What is today ‘Shoul’s Toys, Gifts and Housewares’ was originally housed in an adjacent building before its current premises was built by the family in 1983.

“That’s when we went big-time. People were taken aback by the lights then,” Shoul recalls. “I said last year we would have new decorations this year; that was not possible due to freight costs going up by 300-400 percent and the production line rate meant things were very slow, so we have to now delay that until next year.

“When people say Shoul’s puts up the same stuff every year it hurts a little bit,” he continued. “The lights are expensive, they’re outdoors, they have to be properly electrically wired to make sure nobody gets shocked and you have to buy good quality stuff to make sure nobody’s life is at risk and the property remains safe.”

Supply chain issues have been echoed across the globe in recent months and could have a trickle down effect on Christmas shopping this year.

“We are trying our best to keep our prices as minimum as possible for our customers. Shoul’s Toys and Gifts has been here for generations and we want the people to have the confidence that we are battling for them. If it means biting into our markup this year, we have to do it,” Shoul said.

He continued that while he was “very excited” about the new decorations, now set to be seen in St John’s in December 2022, the team was determined to “freshen up” the existing ones “and make them look as good as ever.”

“The nativity scene is one of our most popular. It has been there for countless years. People like the idea of giving the reason for the season and it’s something we will never get rid of, although our new designs will have new statues,” he said.

Shoul said the annual lights have remained a hit with locals and tourists alike.

“It just brings a lovely feeling to the city; they look forward to it, they can’t wait for it to happen. And that makes me feel good and that’s why we continue to do it for as long as we’re permitted to financially,” he said.

“The support of our customers who come and shop with us makes it all possible, so we show our appreciation in that way to them and bring a great Christmas feel to the country.

“We have so many people who send us pictures and say, this is just out of this world.”

Shoul called for other businesses and groups to follow suit.

“I would like to see more people decorate; it’s not exclusive to me alone. It would be nice to have more of a Christmas atmosphere in the city itself – it needs to be revived and come alive again,” he added.

The decorations will remain in place for four weeks until January 6.

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