Pandemic failed to darken Mesa lights firm The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Pandemic failed to darken Mesa lights firm

December 28th, 2020 Mesa Tribune Staff
Pandemic failed to darken Mesa lights firm

By Coty Dolores Miranda
Tribune Contributor

Some of Santa’s busiest elves this year used cherry pickers.

Those elves are the employees of family-owned Christmas Light Decorators in Mesa and include 25 full-time and 70 seasonal workers hired to add festivity to a multiplicity of municipalities, shopping centers and private homes in Arizona and beyond.

Owners Doug and Marcy Topham are the directors of decorating that begins as early as July. Contemplating holiday decor in the heat of summer takes discipline and desire.

This year, the pandemic had its effect on Christmas Light Decorators, especially during the initial shutdown. As the COVID-19 restrictions loosened, municipalities and retail businesses jumped back into the holiday spirit.

“COVID-19 definitely affected our business. We had some retailers, especially, who decreased the amount they decorated as they weren’t sure the government would allow them to be open.  Others decorated more since they wanted to try to increase traffic at this important time of the year,” said Doug Topham.

Christmas Light Decorators CEO Aaron Farrelly, who has been with the company 11 years, said COVID-19 “made things interesting.”

“We were unsure how it would affect our industry but in the end our clients all wanted to decorate. I think the desire to have Christmas cheer is higher than ever. I think the spirit of Christmas is something people are craving. This seems to have translated into our clients’ desire to keep their properties decorated; and in some cases, even more so than a normal year,” said Farrelly.

In 2016, CLD had 360 projects from Flagstaff to Yuma and with stellar and well-known projects like Glendale Glitters (the company’s first project in 2004 uses more than 1.2 million lights) and Prescott’s Courthouse Plaza (the city that now holds the title “Arizona’s Christmas City”).

This year, the business had 425 projects in six states, including municipalities and a new extravagant one in a high-end Bellevue Washington shopping center, The Shops at the Bravern. 

“I wouldn’t measure our growth so much based on the number of projects but the average size of our projects – and that’s increased,” explained Farrelly. “You have to think about it this way: It would take 30 HOA communities to equal the amount of work we do for one city. We do fewer HOA’s now but more cities.”

As happens with city and shopping center displays like Scottsdale’s Quarter’s Holiday Lights, another long-term customer, most work must be done after the stores have closed.

That means decorating begins after 9 p.m. and continues throughout the night.

At Scottsdale Quarter, besides the expansive and magical light display, CLD installs three 30-foot circlets, each steel frame weighing a ton.

A new display this year was commissioned in Chandler in conjunction with the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership and R&D Designs. 

“Sugarland” is an interactive display of holiday decorations in the Dr. A.J. Chandler Park West that continues through Jan. 3.

As night descends, the Sugarland display showcases CLD’s “Sugarland’s Canal of Lights,” a walkway over the Commonwealth Canal on Commonwealth Avenue with more than 500 colorful lights pulsating to holiday music.

The Sugarland display also includes the 12-foot-long candy sleigh that seats four people – a sold-out offering on CLD’s “Commercial Christmas Catalog,” a business CLD purchased 16 years ago that allows Topham and crew to ensure quality products for clients while staying apprised of the industry’s latest trends.

The decorating of municipalities, shopping centers and even private homes is not a task for the faint of heart but then, Doug Topham hasn’t ever been accused of that.

From 1984 through 1991, Topham was active in the U.S. Air Force as a jet pilot.

From there, he entered the corporate world working in sales for industry giants including General Electric.

But the urge to own his own company grew stronger and in 2003, the Tophams staked their house and savings to purchase the then-small local business Christmas Light Decorators.

With tenacity and the sales acumen he’d gleaned working with corporations, the business has grown to be one of the largest holiday lighting and decor companies in the southwestern U.S.

Last year, the company moved from their 10,000 square foot warehouse to a new 44,000-square-foot office and warehouse at 3414 N. Higley Road.

There, CLD stores more than 10 million lights and other decor used not only during the Christmas holidays but for others,  including Hanukkah (menorahs up to 9 feet tall), Halloween, Valentine’s Day, awareness months and various year-round fiberglass props and photo pods for businesses’ promotions.

Topham and his wife Marcy have six children, three in college.

One might think with the stress over the growing number of holiday displays – the installation of some that begins in late spring or early summer – Topham might tend to be Scrooge-like this time of  year.

It isn’t the case.

“I love the holidays and the spirit of the holidays,” he said. “It’s a fun, magical time, especially for children, and I enjoy seeing the faces of everyone when the lights are up and lit.”

Marcy Topham said the family tradition includes tours of the local holiday displays put in place by Christmas Light Decorators.

“We usually don’t do a lot of decorating for Christmas. We spend a lot of time going to our projects to check on the lights, and so we consider those our Christmas decorations,” she laughed.

Farrelly, who has two children ages 9 and 6, said he and his family also tour the local finished projects.

“We work hard all year to make preparations for the season and it always pays off when I see the final product and the faces on people who enjoy our work throughout the state,” he said.

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