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School Holiday Shops: The Basics

School Holiday Shops Basics

Consider these issues when deciding when, where, and how to hold your school holiday shop.

by Emily Graham


At some schools, PTOs or PTAs run holiday shops as a fundraiser while others consider their shops to be a service for students, who love picking out gifts for family members and pets. Whichever approach your parent group takes to school holiday shops, we’ll walk you through the basics for a fun and well-organized event.

Get additional tips, including setup instructions for commonly used floor plans and advice on choosing a vendor, by downloading our School Holiday Shop Planning Guide.

Select the Location

Many school parent groups hold their holiday shops in the school library, gym, cafeteria, or a classroom. Where you hold your school holiday shop will depend on a lot of factors, including:

  • who else needs to use the space

  • how many students you want to visit your shop at once

  • how easy it is to secure merchandise when the shop is closed

Space: Identify the rooms at the school that are big enough to hold the shop, and find out who else uses the rooms on a regular basis. You may not find a room that no one else needs for the duration of your holiday shop, especially if you run it for a full school week. If that’s the case, talk with the principal and others involved to see if there’s a solution to sharing the space.

For example, if the school holiday shop is held in the gym, the PE teacher could visit classrooms to lead an activity during the regular PE period. If the library is used for a holiday shop, students could visit the holiday shop during their regular library period and shop instead of doing regular library activities that day.

Number of students:
How many students would you like to have in your holiday shop at once? With a larger shop you can accommodate more students at a single time, but you’ll need more volunteers to help. If you plan to schedule smaller groups for holiday shop visits, you may be able to use an empty classroom instead of a large space like the cafeteria.

Securing merchandise:
If your holiday shop will last for more than one day (and most do), think about how you will keep store items safe during downtimes. In a classroom, the door can be locked when the shop is closed. If you use the cafeteria, you may need to monitor merchandise during breakfast, lunch, and any after-school activities that use the space, or move the store stock to a secure storage area.

Holiday shop how-to! Choosing a vendor, getting organized, and lots of promotional tools

Choose the Dates

Weekday or weekend: While it’s common to hold a holiday shop for a full school week, some parent groups opt to schedule theirs after school hours and combine it with an evening or weekend family event like Breakfast With Santa or a North Pole Express reading night. If the goal of your holiday shop is to raise money or to provide a service to students, school-day store hours will allow more students to visit. If your group’s primary goal is to draw families to a winter holiday event outside of school hours, a holiday shop can be a good addition to other planned activities like crafts or cookie decorating.

Preview day: Typically, parents budget an amount their kids can spend at the school holiday shop, and volunteers help students choose gifts and stay within their budget. Some parent groups have a preview day where students can view the items before the store opens. A preview can help the school community see the quality of the items for sale. In addition, a preview can build excitement among students and help them remember to bring money to school on their assigned shopping day. Don’t expect a preview day to cut down on the time students spend in the store later, though, and keep in mind that it may take younger students longer than you expect to make their buying decisions.

Student absences: If you hold your holiday shop during school hours, consider setting aside time on the last day for students who were absent during their assigned shopping period.

Design Your Floor Plan

The floor plan for your holiday shop is important for one main reason: traffic flow. Before setup day, think about what layout will work for your space and keep students moving toward the checkout area.

You’ll also need to think about how volunteers can access inventory if all the items on a table are sold (keeping additional stock under the table is a simple solution) and think about student access to the items you’re selling. If a table is deep enough that students can’t reach all the items, a volunteer will need to help.

The most common layouts for holiday shops are shaped like the letters L or U. Both allow students to enter into one area and have a simple path to follow toward the checkout area.

L-Shaped Floor Plan

U-Shaped Floor Plan

A round or long table is often added in the center of a holiday shop layout.

If enough space is available, a W-shaped floor plan like this one will allow the display of a lot of merchandise.

An O floor plan works well for smaller spaces, like a classroom.

Create Appealing Displays

Decorations and music can help set the holiday spirit and build excitement among students. If possible, decorate the entrance to your shop to indicate it’s a special area.

Don’t worry about making things look perfect, though. If your school holiday shop is in a classroom or the library and you need to keep students from getting to parts of the room, one option is cover off-limits areas with tablecloths and tape paper snowflakes to add a festive touch.

When setting up your holiday shop, have different areas for each price. If a table has items with more than one price, clearly indicate the areas for each price.

Group small objects into baskets or bins. This not only looks good, but will also help keep the table tidy as students sort through their options.

For more on planning a school holiday shop, download our free School Holiday Shop Planning Guide.

Originally posted in 2019 and updated regularly.

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