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Santa's Toy Shop - Families create Christmas Town
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Jason Bastanzi and daughter Sara, 13, prepare displays for holiday visitors at twilight. Bastanzi makes a daily visit to his parents' home and spends one to two hours doing maintenance - replacing bulbs, fixing displays, and preparing for visitors. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    If you live in Statesboro and want to visit the North Pole, you have to go South.
    U.S. Highway 301 South, to be exact. Three families on Caddie Green Road just south of the Evans County line make the holidays a big deal – big enough that some locals refer to the area as Christmas Town.
     Curtis and Loretta Barrow have gone all-out with their Christmas lights and displays for about 25 years. Daughter and son-in-law Vicki and Garry Deloach, who also happen to be next-door neighbors, have taken up the mantle as well. Visitors are welcome to wander through each yard and take in the sights.
    “We do it mostly for the kids. It just thrills them,” says Curtis Barrow. “I’m still a kid myself. This is for kids at heart.”
    Across the street, Tony and Rita Bastanzi are the newcomers. Their yard extends the outdoor winter wonderland down the road, but about six years ago, they created an attraction that brings visitors in droves. Stocked with toys, knick-knacks, and various holiday collectables Rita has amassed for the past 20 years, the couple’s porch transforms into Santa’s Toy House.
    Rita plays hostess, greeting wide-eyed visitors, young and old, passing out candy canes, answering questions and making conversation. A few days before Christmas, Tony puts his white whiskers to good use and joins Rita as Santa Claus.
    It’s a labor of love for all three families. The Barrows’ display takes about four weeks to complete. For the Bastanzis, set up is anywhere from six to eight weeks. The Bastanzis’ son, Jason, 37, and his three children pitch in for set up and help with the daily maintenance, which involves one to two hours of flipping switches, inflating displays, repairing weather damage and replacing bulbs.
    Is all the hard work worth it? “It’s the one time of year where everybody can forget about everything,” says Jason Bastanzi. “It’s just fun.”
    Rita Bastanzi couldn’t give an exact number of visitors from last season, but she can tell you that she passed out 402 photographs she made of visitors and Santa. “We’re just people-people and have always been a Christmas family.  We want to share Christmas with everyone.”
    Her favorite memory? Last year, on Christmas Eve, a family knelt in prayer in front of a religious manger scene in the Toy Shop. Every visitor took the cue and spontaneously joined in. Even Santa stood up in awe, said Rita.
    This year, Santa will make his appearance from December 22-24 and will stay until the children stop coming.
    To visit from Statesboro:
    Take U.S. 301 South, over I-16.
    About 2 miles south of the Evans County line, turn left at Junction 169. Look for the big “Come See The Christmas Lights” sign.
    Scott Bryant can be reached at sbryant@statesboroherald.com
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