Monty’s of Provincetown sparkles with dazzling Christmas ornaments, Yuletide nostalgia, and holiday cheer all throughout the year

This holiday party never ends, November/December Cape Cod Life | capecodlife.com

Photography by Dominic Casserly

He grew up poor in a housing project. His father died when he was young, and his mother worked in a factory. He was one of six children at home, and sometimes there wasn’t enough food to go around. Despite the challenges his family faced, he has positive memories. His mother loved Christmas, and on Christmas morning he always woke to gifts and decorations.

Today that little boy is long since grown up, and he has figured out how to spend nearly every day, year round, surrounded by thousands of colorful, sparkling, classic, whimsical—and sometimes just plain silly—Christmas ornaments. He is Fred Schulenburg, a.k.a. Monty, the proprietor of Monty’s on Commercial Street in Provincetown. (His mother, Ruth, who was English, gave him the nickname “Monty,” he says, after Lord Mountbatten, though he can’t say what qualities he might share with the British statesman.)

Women’s clothing and accessories, giftware, and home décor fill the lower level of Monty’s, but it’s all Christmas all the time on the shop’s second floor. The store is open year round except on weekdays in January and February, when he’s off on buying trips.

At 73, Schulenburg is a soft-spoken man with definite ideas about merchandising and style. “Air is money,” he says. “Items need air.” The store takes full advantage of air rights, with hundreds, maybe thousands, of ornaments hanging from a champagne garland-draped ceiling. The entire sales floor fairly shimmers. Schulenburg says he prefers a white background over green garlands and trees because everything is much brighter. And, he adds, hanging ornaments from the ceiling keeps them out of reach of little fingers.

Schulenburg spent his childhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut. After graduating from Bentley College in Boston (now Bentley University in Waltham) in 1965, he worked in accounting, eventually landing at Time Inc., in its Greenwich, Conn., office. He became vice president of finance for Time’s fine art division, called the New York Graphics Society. When he traveled with his sales staff, he says, he tended to listen more to customers than to his salesmen, a habit he maintains to this day. “Customers are the best people to listen to,” he says.

Schulenburg left Time in 1983 to launch his own accounting business and help care for his mother. After his mother died, he wanted a change, he says, and moved to Wellfleet in 1986.

In 1993 he opened Monty’s, which he stocked with Italian pottery, furniture, art, and home décor, highlighting unusual items he had come across in his travels. After a few years he decided to “try a little Christmas” in one corner of the store to see how it would go. The rest, as they say, is history. “Christmas is what I’m known for now,” he says.

Shop Therapy, a store specializing in alternative-lifestyle clothing and merchandise, was next door to Monty’s for many years before the owners moved to larger quarters in 2012. Proprietor Ronny Hazel says he enjoyed working alongside Schulenburg. “We inspired each other,” he says, “despite the fact that our customer bases represent two extremes of the rainbow.” Hazel attributes Schulenburg’s success to “an exceptional work ethic and his artistic nature, not just in the things he buys for his customers but in how he displays them.”