PUNXSUTAWNEY — 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 future’s weather.
That, which can only be executed by one earthly entity: The “Prognosticator of Prognosticators” Punxsutawney Phil, of course.
The “Weather Prophet Extraordinary,” whose permanent residence at the Punxsutawney Memorial Library was recently renovated with a new awning titled “Phil’s Burrow,” is now a nationally-recognized icon. Phil’s fame is not only evident in the masses who hightail it to Gobbler’s Knob each year, but also in the sales of keepsakes modeled after the 20-pound personality who proclaims the seasonal patterns in “groundhogese” every February.
With customers calling from across continents, Phil’s Official Souvenir Shop — a partnership of the Groundhog Festival Committee and Chamber of Commerce, specializing in all things groundhog — has become headquarters of the national holiday’s memorabilia.
“This is our time, this is our Black Friday, this is our Christmas rolled into one,” business manager George Powers said. “I’m not going to say we’re not tired at the end of it, because we are. But it’s our chance to help Punxsutawney shine.”
Offering more than 1,200 groundhog-related items, from the staples of souvenirs — T-shirts, coffee mugs and hats — to the crafts of local artisans and Mardi Gras beads adorned with an attached Phil head, the shop’s variety is a significant indication of the public’s demand for pieces of Punxsutawney folklore.
“I think a lot of people are fascinated with the town itself,” Powers said. “Just about anything that says ‘Weather Capital of the World,’ people like to have.”
Preparing, Powers said, is pretty much a year-long event.
“We started planning for Groundhog Day 2011 at the end of February or March 2010,” he said.
With in-store visitors from all 50 states and at least 22 countries, and in more recent years a take-over of “technology-driven” sales, the local shop — which, according to Groundhog Festival Committee Chairman Roger Steele, started out as a six-foot card table — has been providing the public with Phil souvenirs since the early 1990s.
“I don’t think any of us in those days thought it would materialize to what it is now,” Steele said.
If they can’t make it to Punxsy, buyers purchase Groundhog Day items on the shop’s Web site, www.groundhogstuff.com .
The trick has been, Powers said, anticipating what will be each year’s “hot item.” Thus far, he said, a headband with attached groundhog ears is in the lead for the top trend of 2011.
That’s something that took Powers by surprise.
“We just sort of scratch our heads,” he said. “You 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.”
The release of the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” is when, Powers said, the holiday really gained recognition. Subsequently, the sale of souvenirs has snowballed since the movie’s debut.
“Like an avalanche, it just gains momentum,” 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 “keep the holiday important on its own,” Powers said.
Feb. 3, he said, the shop’s staff will breathe a “sigh of relief,” before planning once again commences for Groundhog Day 2012. But until then, Phil’s Official Souvenirs will be busy preparing for the masses that will likely pour in to purchase a piece of Phil — a sight that Powers finds remarkable, year after year.
“What causes that little bit of magic, I don’t know,” he said. “If I could put it in a bottle, I would. When people come in, I say, ‘Can you believe a groundhog created this?’”