CLEARWATER, Fla.-Jan Olson, daughter of the Don Olson Tire & Service Center founder, spent her childhood Christmases in Akron during the early 1960s. She would stand outside the downtown department stores, gazing at their wondrous Christmas window displays, touching the tip of her nose against the cold glass, her father at her side.
She watched in awe as tiny trains weaved their way around snow covered trees and wooden churches, past Santa and families skating on small, frozen ponds.
She took those memories with her to Florida when her family moved to Clearwater in 1972, just before her father opened his first retail tire outlet.
And she remembered them when doctors told her she had a brain tumor and would have to undergo surgery.
In 1977, lying in the hospital following the first of three operations, she asked her father to build his own winter wonderland in his downtown store. Jan told him she wanted her 7-month-old daughter, Lisa, to experience the same Christmas delight she remembered from Akron.
That was the year Don Olson, his wife, Doris, and Jan's twin brother, Jim, went to work, busily creating their first Christmas scene. Now, 17 years later, the Don Olson Tire window display has become a traditional part of Christmas in Clearwater.
Jan died in 1986 at the age of 33, but the display, dedicated in her memory, continues to grow every holiday season. It now covers about 1,000 square feet.
Each year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the Olson family meets about 20 Don Olson Tire employees for breakfast, after which they begin the display.
It takes most of the day to unpack the models, set up the tables and string the hundreds of tiny Christmas lights, Mr. Olson said.
This year, family friend Paul Baker created a toy train layout for the display, including a working waterfall and a wooden trestle that took six months-and 1,000+ hours of work-to complete.
The display-which includes about 200 poinsettias; a working Ferris wheel; Santa riding a teeter totter; a church with a steeple standing almost 4 feet high; and a guard post with a toy soldier-attracted the attention of the local newspaper. The coverage brought hundreds of viewers from all over the area, according to Larry Morgan, who bought Don Olson Tire in 1986.
The original Clearwater outlet is the only Don Olson store that creates an elaborate window display, Mr. Morgan said.
``It's one of those traditions that's a personal thing. I know it means a lot to the Olson family,'' Mr. Morgan said.
The number of visitors occasionally forces the store to remain open hours after its normal closing time, but Mr. Olson said he believes the more people that are able to look at the display, the more successful-and meaningful-it is.
He said he gets lots of calls from people who've seen the display. ``It makes you feel real good,'' he said.