Holiday Lights Make Spirits — and Business — Bright
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Few sights announce the arrival of the holiday season better than a layer of snow atop a roof or front porch outlined by strands of lights.
“It’s something,” Ed Wojciechowski says of the decorating tradition, pausing as a grin stretches across his face. “It’s something that takes you back to when you were a kid. It’s an incredible feeling when you’re driving around at night and have something like this to look at everywhere.”
Wojciechowski is owner and president of Edison Lighting in Poland.
And if you’re driving around the Mahoning Valley, whether along U.S. Route 224 or through a subdivision in Niles, chances are you’re going to see work Edison Lighting has done. This year, the company has either finished or is scheduled to work on some 300 homes and scores of other projects that include downtown Youngstown and Mill Creek Park.
Edison expanded into holiday lighting about a decade ago to keep its workers busy throughout the year, Wojciechowski says. As an outdoor lighting company, its other work begins to wrap up in September. With the addition of professional holiday lighting, workers begin training for Christmastime work as they wrap up their standard jobs.
“It’s a grueling season since everything has to be done in a couple months,” Wojciechowski says, “but it keeps them working.”
After training throughout September – ladder safety, making the strands of lights and wrapping techniques for trees are among the topics – Christmas lights begin going up Oct. 1. In years past installation has stretched as late into the year as Christmas Eve night. Between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25, everyone who contracts with Edison to install lights gets weekly maintenance checks to replace lights that burn out or to flip wreaths caught in the wind.
Each project is custom-made for the house or commercial building – many clients often let Edison employees use their best judgment when coming up with a design, the owner notes.
One task is making strands of lights for each house in the Edison workshop in Poland. When the holiday season is over and the lights come down, they’re stored in a warehouse next door to the headquarters, with the homeowners names arranged alphabetically, on each box of lights.
“That’s all part of the price,” Wojciechowski explains. “We do a design for your house and your house only, make the strands, keep an eye on them and store them.”
The prices of the projects cover the board, from $200 to $30,000. The price is based on what customers want done and, more often than not, Edison doesn’t decorate an entire house by itself. When clients enlist the help of the lighting company, it’s usually a “we need a bigger ladder” situation, Wojciechowski says, because homeowners take care of what they can reach and call in professionals to do the rest.
“Some of these houses are big. They’re not one-story ranch homes,” he says. “We’ll take care of the roof and they’ll take care of their bushes.”
The tradition of people decorating their homes with lights during the Christmas season is an old one. The ever more extravagant displays are a new twist as over the last decade people have devoted substantially more resources to illuminating their residences.
The association of lights with the holidays dates to Germany in the 12th century when peasants brought a Yule log into their homes during the longest, if not darkest nights of winter, burning the log to symbolize the return of longer days after the winter solstice.
By the 1700s, the Germans combined the tradition of bringing trees indoors and the burning of a Yule log as they began putting candles on the fir trees they brought into their homes. With the invention of the light bulb in the late 19th century, candles gave way to the new technology. General Electric produced the first light bulbs made specifically for Christmas decorating just before the beginning of the 20th century.
Among the first recorded instances of lighted trees moved outdoors were displays in San Diego in 1904 and New York in 1912. Perhaps the most famous outdoor display, the mammoth tree at Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, while decorated since the 1930s, did not add electric lights until 1951.
A decade ago, Boardman Park added its own displays of holiday lights. Starting with eight, that number has grown to 32 full-size figures of holiday scenes and characters.
“It was a way to generate interest and get people to the park during wintertime, which has obviously worked out really well,” says park director Dan Slagle. “And secondly, it’s part of our mission to provide activities for families. Children, maybe more so than parents, love looking at the lights.”
Setting up the lights takes two to three weeks, Slagle says. Every light and every wire on every display has to be checked to make sure everything is functional. That takes one park employee about a week. After that, the displays are put into place and connected to extension cords and then those are checked.
The final step is setting up the music. Three years ago, a donor gave Boardman Park the software to set the displays near Maag Theatre to flash in rhythm with music broadcast over the radio.
“It’s wonderful to be able to drive through the park when it’s dark out, hear some music and see these displays,” Slagle says. “Everybody loves it.”
While the start of the holiday season seems to begin earlier each year, those who sell lights plan for it throughout the year. Jack Crouse, owner of Crouse Mills True Value in North Lima, starts stocking up “within three weeks of Christmas, every year.
“Then it starts coming in around August,” he says. “There are some guys who are buying stuff year-round if they can find it for a good price.”
At Coventry Lighting, Canfield, interior designer Frank Daloise starts ordering items in January, 11 months ahead, for his store’s Christmas display that feature lights, ornaments and candles.
“It’s something that you have to think about a year ahead,” he says. “It all has to be planned out.”
The rush to buy lights generally doesn’t take off until December, Crouse says, but he hears from those who start peppering him with questions as early as Labor Day about when the lights go on sale.
Daloise puts out Coventry’s offerings the last weekend of October; a few weeks later the store holds a Christmas open house to show off what’s new.
“We’re an interior design store, both commercial and residential,” he says. “So when someone comes into our store, it’s a given that they’re looking to decorate and that’s especially true at this time of year.”
Over the past few years, LED lights have seen an uptick, while sales of traditional ceramic bulbs – C7 and C9 bulbs are the most common of that variety – are fading, yet they’re still often requested.
“They’re still buying a lot of lights, but our customers aren’t used to the mini lights. They’ve always had the C7s and C9s in their homes,” he elaborates. “They aren’t accustomed to the LEDs, but they’re getting there. Those are the ones really taking off.”
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.