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niceville
12-04-2009, 09:03 PM
This from the Northwest Florida Daily News (http://www.nwfdailynews.com), Dec. 4, 2009:

Christmas Lady finds a new home at Uptown Station (PHOTO GALLERY)

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December 04, 2009 5:29 PM

Wendy Victora (http://www.nwfdailynews.com/reporter-profile/wendy-victora-449)
Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — Christmas last year was quiet for Debbie Lewis, too quiet. Her animated dolls — all 400-plus of them — spent the holiday in their boxes.

There was no Christmas village, no animated Christmas Elmo, no Santa Clauses swaying back and forth to tinny music.

This year, the Christmas Lady is back in a big way.

She and her husband, Charles Kevin Payne, have been working since Labor Day to fill 6,000 square feet at J.G. Plaza, the newest building at Uptown Station, with their entire Christmas collection.

View photos of the Christmas display » (http://nwfdailynews.emeraldcoastphotoswest.com/mycapture/folder.asp?event=902634&CategoryID=28208&ListSubAlbums=0)

“We’re very grateful,” said Lewis, who added that when they last displayed in 2007, it was in tents at the Niceville City Hall complex. “This is all indoors. Indoor plumbing.”

“Animation in Motion” opens tonight on the first floor of J.G. Plaza, adjacent to the original Uptown Station. The display is free to the public from 6 until 9 p.m. through Dec. 27.

Lewis and Payne made headlines for opening up their Niceville home so residents could view their holiday display, and then for running amuck of the city of Niceville in 2007. That’s when someone complained about traffic and other problems caused by the thousands of visitors to the quiet neighborhood.

Later that year, the Niceville City Council told the couple they could no longer allow visitors to tour their display and offered them a site at City Hall. However, the tents in which the display was housed did little to keep out the dampness and wind.

Although 12,000 people viewed the display — a record number — some of the characters were damaged. When the city offered them the same accommodations in 2008, Lewis and Payne declined.

“I said, ‘Unless you give us indoor space, I’m not doing it,’ ” Lewis said she told the city.

But a year without their Christmas display was almost like a year without Christmas for the holiday-centered couple.

“I was miserable,” she recalls. “I was plumb miserable.

“That’s when I decided I’m not going to let another year go by without having it up,” she added.

In April of this year, she was approached by Martin Owen, the marketing director for Uptown Station.

“We heard that she was homeless,” said Owen, who added that they talked over the summer about the best location.

Lewis turned down the community center at Hammock Bay because it was “too small,” for her growing collection.

In June, she was sitting at her computer when an e-mail came from Owen to offer her nine suites in J.G. Plaza. Now that was big enough, she said.
In September, she and her husband loaded up an 18-wheeler and two utility trailers with her 400-plus animated figures, 10 Christmas trees, 400-plus nutcrackers and the makings of a Christmas village with hundreds of buildings.

She’s hoping that more than 20,000 people come through this year. It’s a lot of work, but Lewis loves it.

“It’s all about sharing,” she said. “It’s all about making Christmas bright for someone else.”