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A Christmas Cottage industry Tradition: For the past 12 years, an Elkridge couple have turned their home into a popular holiday showcase and craft marketplace that this year is expected to draw about 2,000 people to their door.


About a month ago, Gene and Bonnie Poligardo began the ritual of packing up and moving all of their furniture out of their cozy downstairs living room and into the family garage.

The Elkridge couple have lived in the area almost 20 years and don't have plans to move.

They were making room for the 10,000 pieces of handcrafted holiday items stored throughout their home, and readying themselves for the 1,000 shoppers expected to pass through this weekend at the annual Elkridge Christmas Cottage.

What started as a small attempt 12 years ago to raise a few extra dollars to help with purchases during the holiday season has turned into an Elkridge tradition.

The cottage is open two weekends each year, the first on Thanksgiving weekend. Thousands of items created by local artisans are showcased and for sale.

"We enjoy doing this every year. It marks the beginning of our holiday season," said Bonnie Poligardo, 48.

"We are only slightly inconvenienced by the cottage," she said, while pointing to handmade Christmas tree ornaments stocked high on shelves where her sofa and love seat usually sit.

But the inconvenience has not been a sufficient reason for the hosts to retreat. The event has become integrated into the holiday shopping schedules of many area residents as well as a few from out of state.

"The Christmas Cottage is great, and it is put together very well," said Annapolis resident Charlene Meckling, who has attended the event the past four years. "This is a great way to pitch the spirit of Chrismas."

Mary Gray, an artisan from Ellicott City, has displayed 20 of her craft items this year, several of which have been sold. In years past, she was also a customer.

"It's a lot of fun. You get to meet people who you haven't seen in a long time," Gray said.

Two weeks ago, Bonnie Poligardo sent postcards about the Christmas Cottage to 1,500 people.

"It's a lot of work," she said. "We start right after Halloween getting ready for this, and we go nonstop."

Nearly 800 people passed through the Poligardos' home in the 6200 block of Old Washington Road last weekend, and they expect at least 1,000 people this weekend, before the cottage closes Sunday.

The five rooms on the first floor of the Poligardos home have been converted into a temporary mini-warehouse with everything from handmade wreaths and ornaments to baskets and clothing, made mostly by Elkridge residents.

"It gets crowded in here. Many of the people who come are afraid to put down an item they like because if they do, someone might take it," said Gene Poligardo, 51, who helps his wife organize the cottage. "Sometimes there is pushing and shoving -- but we're used to it."

Bonnie Poligardo, a housewife who also makes and sells crafts, started the craft show and sale in 1986 after attending a similar one in Sykesville.

"A friend of mine told me that she thought I could do it, and I decided to give it a try," she said.

Several months later, they were in business, getting calls from artisans throughout the state vying for spots to display their work.

"Every year, we have to turn some of the crafters away," she said. "We just don't have enough space to accommodate everyone."

Artisans determine the prices of their items, and the Poligardos receive a percentage of the profits.

In past years, the Poligardos have made donations from their proceeds to the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department to help provide food baskets for the poor; they plan to do the same this year.

"We have no control over how much a crafter will price an item," Bonnie Poligardo said. "But if we feel it is too expensive or it won't sell, we won't take it."

As shoppers navigate through each room, holiday music plays in the background, and the smell of apple cider on the stove provides a sweet scent throughout the house.

"The people are so nice. They're so appreciative of us having this," she said. "I just want people to come and be satisfied with what they buy here. If they're not happy, it reflects on us."

The Elkridge Christmas Cottage is open today, tomorrow and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 6259 Old Washington Road in Elkridge. Information: (410) 796-7842.

Pub Date: 12/04/98

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