When John and Claudia Bradford, owners of the Christmas Cottage shop in Oak Bluffs, came to Martha’s Vineyard in 1972, it was only supposed to be for a summer vacation.

“I was in the army for three years,” John said in an interview with the Vine, surrounded by twinkling LED Christmas lights, glittery ornaments and jolly portraits of Santa Claus. “I said, ‘let’s go to the Vineyard for the summer before we head back to the real world.’ And we never went back!”

The Bradfords relocated from their home outside of Boston to live year-round in Oak Bluffs, and for nearly 50 years now, the couple has maintained the only Christmas-themed souvenir shop on Martha’s Vineyard.

Byers' Choice carolers are a bestseller at the Christmas cottage. Jeanna Shepard

But as John recalled, it didn’t start out that way.

“At the time, we didn’t think anybody would buy Christmas stuff in the middle of the summer,” he said. Their first shop on Circuit avenue sold a wide assortment of Vineyard souvenirs.

“But we found some neat Christmas ornaments and we put them out. They were gone in like a week. So the next time we went looking for things, we brought over more. And it kind of built from there.”

After relocating the store to Edgartown for a time, they got the opportunity in 1979 to move to their current location at Dockside Marketplace on Circuit avenue extension. By then, John said, they decided to focus almost exclusively on Christmas items — though the couple does stock a few Halloween items in October.

Harbor Lights collectable lighthouses capture iconic Vineyard locales. Jeanna Shepard

“The location’s great and you can’t beat the view,” he said, pointing out the open door to Oak Bluffs harbor, relatively serene during the quiet autumn.

But it’s not just the view that makes the location in the Dockside Marketplace so great; the spot has been ideal for the clientele it brings.

Hy-Line Cruises, which ferries passengers over from Hyannis to Oak Bluffs from May through October, disembarks right outside the shop. The Christmas Cottage is often the first shop visitors see. The holiday focus of the shop helps it stand out from other souvenir and T-shirt shops.

The shop’s theme is “a memory of the Vineyard to treasure at Christmas,” John said. And that motto drives the unique blend of products at their shop. Gifts often blur the line between Christmas cheer and Vineyard spirit.

“We’re always looking out for something new or different,” he said of their selection. One of their newest best-selling items is a series of nautically-themed Christmas ornaments — lobster claws painted and topped with a Santa Claus hat.

But the cornerstone of their collection is a Christmas classic, the Byers’ Choice line of caroler figurines.

Island-themed ornaments are a "memory of the Vineyard to cherish at Christmas." Jeanna Shepard

“People are big collectors of these,” John said. Figurines run between $80 and $100. And the Christmas Cottage carries specially made Vineyard-themed carolers.

Unlike most holiday stores, John pointed out, the Christmas Cottage does the lion’s share of their business in the summer. They are open every day from mid-May through October. After a short break through Thanksgiving, they open up again on weekends through Christmas, when more locals come by to pick up holiday essentials.

The Bradfords stay busy when the store is closed too, operating an online shop (handworksgifts.com) that allows them to ship as many as 150 boxes a day at Christmastime. “It’s a lot of work,” John said, adding that he plans to slow down the website business in coming years.

But even as they slow down on the Internet, the brick-and-mortar Christmas Cottage isn’t going anywhere. Now 78 years old, John said he doesn’t see himself hanging up his Christmas hat any time soon. After five decades in the yuletide business, he still doesn’t get bored.

“There’s always a challenge or something new coming up,” he said. “You get to meet people from all over the world…I don’t have any reason to stop now.”

Thomas Humphrey is a reporter for the Vineyard Gazette.