Victoria’s last Christmas store will soon fade into history

The distinctive historic building housing the Original Christmas Village — the only Christmas store remaining in downtown Victoria — is on the market for $1.275 million.

At one time, Christmas Village, 1323 Government St., was among three stores with the same seasonal theme.

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The 27-year-old business was opened by Gudrun Reinhold and her husband, Falk Reinhold, who died last year. It continues today with Gudrun Reinhold at the helm, open from Tuesdays to Saturdays. She is planning to retire.

Downtown visitors are familiar with the 106-year-old, two-storey building with its red-trimmed doors, five arched windows on the second level and detailed cornice.

The store is filled with Christmas and Easter items such as traditional nutcrackers, angels, sleighs and stuffed animals in red outfits.

About a decade ago, shoppers could visit the Spirit of Christmas, 1022 Government St., and the Christmas House, 1209 Wharf St., as well.

Falk Reinhold arrived in Canada in 1986 from Nuremberg, Germany, home of the renowned Christkindlesmarkt. The annual pre-Christmas festival staged in the city’s Old Town dates to the mid-16th century.

Reinhold brought a love for that tradition to Victoria. In a 2002 interview, he spoke of his German background and its preference for wood and handmade glass ornaments. “We do things in a fairly plain way,” he said. “We don’t go into glitter and tinsel, more natural colours.”

Developers and independent businesses have been looking at the property, said Graham Smith, one of the listing agents at Colliers International, on Thursday.

The shop is in an active part of Government Street, he noted, adding that The Gap retail clothing store is next door.

The Christmas Village building — 4,458 square feet, not including the basement — dates from the early 1900s, when it was designed by architects William D’Oyly Hamilton Rochfort and Eben Sankey, says a City of Victoria’s statement about the building’s significance. Rochfort also designed Victoria’s Royal Theatre.

The building was the home to one of the city’s first moving-picture cinemas. Lorenzo Joseph Quagliotti and his brother Ernest owned the 450-seat Romano, the Victoria document says. “The construction of the Romano Theatre in 1909 and its alteration three years later provides tangible evidence of the tremendous boom in population and construction in Victoria between 1900 and 1913, the largest experienced in the city’s history.”

The theatre was built on the site of an 1895 building designed by Thomas Hooper, the document says.

Lorenzo Quagliotti had ownership in four theatres and the Romano’s early success spurred construction of other theatres.

A 1916 edition of the Timber Wolf publication for local servicemen advertised the Romano Theatre with “high-class photoplays” and “good music.” Moving pictures were called photoplays in those days. Admission was 10 cents.

The Romano operated for nearly 25 years until both Quagliotti brothers died in 1930 and the Great Depression arrived, the city document says.

It was listed as vacant in city directories for a decade until a plumbing business opened in 1945.

Over the years, the building has gone through numerous renovations, Colliers said. It was a restaurant and a dinner theatre before becoming Christmas Village.

Designed in the Italiante style, the building is in Victoria’s Old Town and on the city’s heritage registry, said Victoria Coun. Pamela Madoff. “It is quite a handsome building.”

Other historic buildings in Old Town have gone through improvements in recent years. They include developer Chris Le Fevre’s conversion of the former New England Hotel, 1312 Government St. — across the street from the Christmas Village— into residential units, with Hemp and Co. on the ground floor.

The City of Victoria has a tax incentive program for owners who fix up heritage buildings.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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