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PUNXSUTAWNEY â Though the dust from the holiday shopping season has just settled, for one local retailer, the hustle-and-bustle is just beginning.
While the rest of the world migrates south, seeking relief from frigid seasonal conditions, flights of inquiring minds, from near and far, flock north for the forecasting of the futureâs weather.
That, which can only be executed by one earthly entity: The âPrognosticator of Prognosticatorsâ Punxsutawney Phil, of course.
The âWeather Prophet Extraordinary,â whose permanent residence at the Punxsutawney Memorial Library was recently renovated with a new awning titled âPhilâs Burrow,â is now a nationally-recognized icon. Philâs fame is not only evident in the masses who hightail it to Gobblerâs Knob each year, but also in the sales of keepsakes modeled after the 20-pound personality who proclaims the seasonal patterns in âgroundhogeseâ every February.
With customers calling from across continents, Philâs Official Souvenir Shop â a partnership of the Groundhog Festival Committee and Chamber of Commerce, specializing in all things groundhog â has become headquarters of the national holidayâs memorabilia.
âThis is our time, this is our Black Friday, this is our Christmas rolled into one,â business manager George Powers said. âIâm not going to say weâre not tired at the end of it, because we are. But itâs our chance to help Punxsutawney shine.â
Offering more than 1,200 groundhog-related items, from the staples of souvenirs â T-shirts, coffee mugs and hats â to the crafts of local artisans and Mardi Gras beads adorned with an attached Phil head, the shopâs variety is a significant indication of the publicâs demand for pieces of Punxsutawney folklore.
âI think a lot of people are fascinated with the town itself,â Powers said. âJust about anything that says âWeather Capital of the World,â people like to have.â
Preparing, Powers said, is pretty much a year-long event.
âWe started planning for Groundhog Day 2011 at the end of February or March 2010,â he said.
With in-store visitors from all 50 states and at least 22 countries, and in more recent years a take-over of âtechnology-drivenâ sales, the local shop â which, according to Groundhog Festival Committee Chairman Roger Steele, started out as a six-foot card table â has been providing the public with Phil souvenirs since the early 1990s.
âI donât think any of us in those days thought it would materialize to what it is now,â Steele said.
If they canât make it to Punxsy, buyers purchase Groundhog Day items on the shopâs Web site, www.groundhogstuff.com.
The trick has been, Powers said, anticipating what will be each yearâs âhot item.â Thus far, he said, a headband with attached groundhog ears is in the lead for the top trend of 2011.
Thatâs something that took Powers by surprise.
âWe just sort of scratch our heads,â he said. âYou plan, and you think you have enough of something, but then we sell 200 Mardi Gras beads in one order. It keeps us on our toes, trying to keep up with stuff.â
The release of the 1993 film âGroundhog Dayâ is when, Powers said, the holiday really gained recognition. Subsequently, the sale of souvenirs has snowballed since the movieâs debut.
âLike an avalanche, it just gains momentum,â he said.
The impending holiday, which this year marks its 125th observance, was acknowledged with the unveiling of the annual plush Phil and, for the first time ever, wife Phyllis, last Friday.
The century-and-a-quarter anniversary, or quasquicentennial, however, will be celebrated just as any other Feb. 2 to âkeep the holiday important on its own,â Powers said.
Feb. 3, he said, the shopâs staff will breathe a âsigh of relief,â before planning once again commences for Groundhog Day 2012. But until then, Philâs Official Souvenirs will be busy preparing for the masses that will likely pour in to purchase a piece of Phil â a sight that Powers finds remarkable, year after year.
âWhat causes that little bit of magic, I donât know,â he said. âIf I could put it in a bottle, I would. When people come in, I say, âCan you believe a groundhog created this?ââ