‘Don’t expect frills’: Kindy’s Christmas Factory Outlet is hardscrabble, homespun, and a 40-year Philly tradition – The Philadelphia Inquirer

“It’s not for everybody … but it’s the only place you’ll find an inflatable pig and a Santa with a bow tie made out of tinsel,” president Richard Kinderman said.
The first thing to know about Kindy’s Christmas Factory Outlet is that if you think you’re in the wrong place, you’re probably in the exact right one.
Whether you’re passing by the dingy beige warehouse store in South Philly on the Schuylkill Expressway or are parked directly in front of it, Kindy’s looks as if it might be abandoned. Many people think it is. But that’s just part of its charm.
It’s not even clear where the door to Kindy’s is until you spot the red ribbons of paint around the white poles on the loading dock ramp.
“Is that the entrance there, through the loading dock?” you may ask yourself.
Oh yes, yes it is.
Inside, the no-frills, no-heat, no-way-I-haven’t-seen-this-decoration-in-decades adventure continues at what may be one of the most Philly holiday stores — and experiences — in the city.
Here, staffers don’t need fancy walkie-talkies to communicate with each other, they just yell “Hey, Tina! Where ya at?” across four aisles. The paint is peeling, the pipes are exposed, boxes are everywhere, and the kitschy Christmas decorations — from silver tinsel icicles to fake cardboard fireplaces — abound.
“This place rules! Make sure you drink in the parking lot before going in for an even better experience,” reads a recent five-star Google review by Brad Flynn. “I even got to sit in Santa’s ripped old chair. Seriously, the best place I’ve ever been to!”
At this upside-down Christmas Shoppe, this hardscrabble holiday warehouse store that’s as nostalgic as the Macy’s light show and as unnerving as the Dickens Village, it feels just as likely that you could run into Santa as you could Krampus around any corner.
Adding to its mystique, the store is open only four days a week for two months out of the year.
For many in the Philadelphia region, visiting Kindy’s — which marks 40 years in business this year — is a holiday tradition. The store averages about 9,000 customers and 5,000 transactions each season.
But an equal part of the population seems totally unaware of the store’s existence. Even people who went as kids, like Monica McLaughlin, 49, of Havertown, are often surprised to hear it’s still open.
“I can’t believe it’s still around! It used to be in a different (even creepier) warehouse,” she said in response to a social media post. “My family went every year and I loved it because it felt inherently dangerous, like I might fall through the floorboards at any moment.”
A 36-year-old Southwest Philly resident who declined to give her name because she was playing hooky from work with her three kids last Friday, said it was her first trip to Kindy’s.
“We drive past it all the time on the highway and I always wondered what it was, so I looked it up online,” she said. “When we pulled in the kids were like, ‘Why are we going to this crusty place?’ And I told them, ‘You don’t know what hidden gems could be in there.’”
Kindy’s president Richard Kinderman, the fourth generation of his family to helm the company, and his mother, Judy, who is president of the board, are well aware of what their store is, and what it’s not. Like Philly, Kindy’s prides itself in being real, not fancy.
“Don’t expect frills and don’t expect an upscale retail experience,” Judy Kinderman, 74, said. “Just know you’re coming into a warehouse and a factory building and accept it for what it is and see that the product is there for the taking.”
Richard Kinderman, 42, said Kindy’s is “organized chaos.”
“It’s not for everybody … but it’s the only place you’ll find an inflatable pig and a Santa with a bow tie made out of tinsel,” he said. “And I think we’re the only store where you can test your lights before you buy them.”
Despite owning a store, the Kindermans make it quite clear they’re not in the retail-store business. It’s just kind of a thing they do around the holidays, like drinking eggnog.
Their main focus is the parent company, Brite Star Manufacturing, which was founded in 1932 and produces holiday lights, tinsel, and other decorations.
In the 1950s, Brite Star moved from Old City to Front and Jackson Streets in South Philly, stirring residents’ curiosity.
“They knew Christmas was going on inside,” Judy Kinderman said.
And being this was South Philly, residents had no problem walking up and asking if they could take a look around.
“They actually opened the warehouse doors in 1981 in response to the neighbors who literally knocked on the front door and wanted to know what was going on inside,” Judy Kinderman said.
In 1998, Kindy’s moved to its current location at 2900 S. 20th Street, a decommissioned Army depot once known as the Defense Personnel Support Center.
Remnants of the old depot can still be seen at Kindy’s, from large public address speakers overhead ready to announce an air raid at any moment to an old-school time punch clock affixed to a pole in the ornament aisle.
About 60% of the products at Kindy’s are manufactured by Brite Star, including all of the holiday lights and most of the outdoor decorations, but the only thing still made on site is tinsel. The rest of the manufacturing occurs in China.
And while Brite Star products are available in stores from Home Depot to CVS, it’s unlikely you’ll see the Brite Star name anywhere outside of Kindy’s because stores typically sell Brite Star products under their own retail label, Richard Kinderman said.
To round out its offerings, Kindy’s purchases bows, ornaments, and other decorations. Some of the ornaments appear to have weathered more Christmases than Scrooge and suffered more blows than Rocky.
Richard Kinderman said “it’s certainly possible” some of the decorations have been gracing the shelves for decades, but the workers try to look out for items that are “collecting a little too much dust.”
Upkeep of the massive 1940s building is tough, Richard Kinderman said. As a result, the floor is chipped in places and there’s peeling paint everywhere. This year, pieces of white paint fell from the ceiling onto the store’s toy train set and have remained there all season, like avant-garde snow.
“The ceiling, I’ll be very honest, we’re so used to it we don’t even notice it,” Richard Kinderman said. “But we do know the paint is not lead-based! We’ve had it tested many times.”
Some shoppers bemoan Kindy’s is not “what it was.” Over the years, offerings have changed and displays have come and gone. Kindy’s once had animatronics, a food court, and even a live Christmas tree lot on site, but none of that remains today.
Linette Levere, who traveled to Kindy’s from Delaware with her husband, Thurman, last Friday, said the store is “nothing like it used to be.”
“It used to be a place where if you couldn’t find it anywhere else, you could find it here,” she said. “I’m just coming here now because it’s tradition. It’s Kindy’s.”
But others, like Shirley Jackson, 80, of South Philly, and her granddaughter, Wyneesha Jackson, 40, of Dover, still find magic in the store.
“You have to be in the Christmas spirit to see it well,” Shirley Jackson said. “This is a South Philly tradition. Not a Christmas goes by I don’t come here.”
Wyneesha Jackson said she hated coming to Kindy’s as a kid, but now she sees the magic too.
“It’s just a warehouse, but it’s the things inside of it that bring it to life,” she said.
Among those things are musical Santas, mannequin Santas, and blow-up Santas, too, including a 5-foot-tall St. Nicholas grilling up hot dogs on a barbecue.
There are lights that twinkle, ones that rain, and lights that come in the colors of a candy cane. There are Hawaiian-shirt string lights and red Solo cup ones too. There are even disco-ball lights, if that’s how you do.
And when it comes to fake trees, the choices abound, but the Christmas palm trees sold out this year, so they’re no longer around.
But perhaps — just perhaps — the real magic of Kindy’s lies in the decorations that touch our hearts as well as our eyes. Cheap foil ornaments you haven’t seen in decades remind you of your grandma, and how love never truly fades. The memories come rushing back, as they do at this time of year, and that is how Kindy’s spreads Christmas cheer.
“I would say if you are passionate about the holidays, there’s creativity in us all that you may not be able to touch on unless you immerse yourself here for an hour or so,” Richard Kinderman said.
“Also, people should know to bring their jacket,” he added.

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