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Christmas Season Essential for Branson Theaters

November and December generate a combined $2 million in annual sales tax revenue. Theaters and shops court holiday shoppers and sightseers through late autumn.
BRANSON, Mo.-- Visitors to the Hwy. 76 strip will find a strange combination of holidays this week.

Halloween comes Thursday, yet Christmas decorations already line the street poles and storefronts of Branson.

The owners of shops and theaters have been preparing for Dec. 25 since the summer months, making sure everything is perfect for the holiday season. In the next two months, tourists to the city will spend nearly as much in Branson as they did in June and July and generate nearly $2 million for the city in sales tax revenue.

As the general manager of the Starlite theater, Linda Merkling appreciates the surge in business before the end of the year. But for her, it does not detract from holiday cheer.

"I love Christmas," she said. "It's all about the kids. But we're all a kid at heart, right?"

The theater will host a production of The Toy Shoppe, a Broadway musical produced by Kenny Rogers. Billy Dean will act as the special host when the show officially opens this weekend.

The other performers at the theater, including the Texas Tenors and the Gatlin Brothers, will begin their Christmas shows, too.

The preparation took months. Merkling said she ordered banners and Christmas decorations in the summer, and planned certain events as early as last year.

"It was kind of like Christmas in July," she said.

It was the same kind of summer at the Shepherd of the Hills Entertainment Complex. Even though the company's theatrical production shut down at the end of the fall season, it immediately transitioned to the holidays.

Keith Thurman, the manager of the theater, said he enjoys the annual change to a drive-through light display, complete with animatronics and music.

"It is something the whole family can enjoy and you can do it from the comfort of your own vehicle," he said. "The Christmas part of this is so much fun. It's one of my favorite times."

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