The Annalee Experience
At the Annalee Outlet in Meredith, N.H., the Christmas spirit — and the traditions, memories and smiles that accompany the season — are on display all year long. Located in the heart of the beautiful lakes region, it’s a perfect day trip from the Merrimack Valley for anyone looking to embrace the mood of the holidays.
The dolls that were first made by Annalee Thorndike in a “factory in the woods” of Meredith 75+ years ago have since become international treasures. Alex Gorelchenka, an Annalee employee for more than 27 years, says the smile and intricate details on the dolls’ faces and the joy they bring are among the reasons people continue to love them.
“Visiting the outlet brings you back in time,” Michele York of Loudon, N.H., says while visiting the outlet with a friend. Like many owners of Annalee dolls, York and her friend both say they grew up with them in their homes. The dolls have become timeless and cherished collectibles that are often passed down among generations. The day we visited the outlet, my mother and I were among several mothers and daughters in the store, a common occurrence, according to Gorelchenka. The dolls, and the traditions and memories that surround them, have become more of an experience. And there is no better place to fully indulge that experience than at the Annalee Outlet, not far from where the tradition began.
Whether it’s the skiers in the winter or the sunbathers in the summer, residents of the area or tourists passing through, it’s common for people to work in at least one stop at the Annalee Outlet. There are Annalee dolls for every season, and others for special holidays and occasions, and the outlet sets up festive displays to mark the different times of the year. Christmas, however, is the most popular and anticipated season at Annalee, and that’s apparent as soon as you walk in. A Christmas display currently set up at the entrance features a giant Annalee Santa, reindeer, and a Christmas tree that invites a photo shoot, so bring your children and the camera.
Inside, the Christmas theme dominates with a variety of festive dolls. People especially love the elves, which make great decorations, Gorelchenka says. In addition to their enjoyable faces and costumes, the dolls have flexible wire frames that enable you to form them into various poses, such as waving hello or blowing a kiss. Put them in your Christmas tree, on the mantel, wrapped around a railing, or hanging from the chandelier. Their versatility and sentimental value make Annalee dolls a wonderful Christmas gift. They range in price from $5 to $155, depending on size. In addition to featuring the current lines, the outlet store offers a year-round, 40 percent off section for the older lines, so you’ll be sure to find something you like.
The quaint town of Meredith and the surrounding area offer a variety of restaurants, gift shops, antiques stores, and great scenery. Meredith center and the marvelous view of Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains are well worth the ride. If you want to stay overnight or for a weekend, there are various options, including typical New England bed & breakfasts and cabins on the water. On the way to or from Meredith, stop at the Tanger Outlets in Tilton at Exit 20 off I-93 — another option for holiday shopping. Stop and eat at any of the charming restaurants, including Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant in Meredith — perfect for a pre- or post-Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner. A favorite restaurant of Annalee’s was the Village Kitchen in Moultonborough, where she often went with her family.
A display of Annalee’s earlier works in the outlet store, accompanied by pictures of her and her family, highlights how the dolls’ faces and the faces of her family members bear a striking resemblance. Gorelchenka says that although Annalee died in 2002, her vision and motto live on: “If you smile, someone else has got to smile back,” and this is why people have loved the Annalee experience for over 75 years and counting. Written on the wall of the outlet are the phrases, “Tell stories,” “Build Family Traditions,” “The Magic is in the smile,” and “Create Memories,” which is exactly what the dolls try to do and what a visit to the Annalee Outlet hopes to foster.
The Annalee Outlet is located at Olde Province Common, 71 NH Route 104, Meredith, N.H., and is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Call (800) 433-6557 for more information or visit Annalee.com.