by Marissa Maier
There is no official, government-approved timeline for the holiday season. For some the interval begins once radio stations start to play “Jingle Bell Rock” or grocery stores begin to prominently display stuffing mixes and cranberry sauce cans. In Jim Frankenbach’s opinion the holidays officially kick-off when neighborhood houses are bathed in Christmas lights and a tree dripping in decorations and ornaments is propped up inside.
From a few weeks before Thanksgiving through mid-December, Frankenbach experiences his most favorite and most fruitful time of year. Frankenbach’s company Southampton Christmas Lights, an offshoot of his family’s business Southampton Nursery, occupies the local niche market of installing, designing, taking down and storing holiday lights for private homes and commercial businesses.
Frankenbach has been a long time fan of the holidays. As a child, he would help customers pick out their Christmas trees at his parent’s garden center in Southampton. Once he had his own children, his family went out on their annual “Christmas Ride” through the neighborhood. They admired people’s light displays and rated the best.
Around five years ago, after the garden center had closed and Frankenbach was experiencing a slow period in terms of work, he put up a sign for Christmas light installation on County Road 39 on a whim. His phone, he recalled, proceeded to ring off the hook with requests from residents.
“No, I didn’t expect it to take off so quickly. Before me, people were doing it themselves or they would hire a florist, but it wasn’t geared towards the lights,” Frankenbach explained in an interview. “The first year it was just fun and I made a little money.”
Over the past few years, Frankenbach’s business flourished. He now services many commercial operations on the Main Streets of East Hampton, Southampton and Westhampton. Last week, Frankenbach even traveled as far as Bohemia to install the lights on a front yard Menorah display. From ordering lights to designing a layout, Southampton Christmas Lights is a full service business. Frankenbach added that the installation and storage aspect of his operation is a main draw for most customers.
“I was at a car dealership five years ago looking at a new car and these employees were arguing over who was going to put up the tree [in front of the store],” he recalled. “The put up and take down for the stores is one of the best selling points,”
Not only does Frankenbach store his client’s lights in a climate controlled area, he offers expert advice on which lights to purchase. Frankenbach explained that the options for lights are divided into two catagories: incandescent and LED — light-emitting diodes — lights. He noted that incandescents have been on the market longer and offer a more traditional look, but often have a shorter shelf life. LEDs were fully incorporated into the market a few years ago, come in a vast array of colors and, although they are more expensive, tend to be operable for up to ten years.
For the average family looking to economize and scale back their light display this year, Frankenbach suggested focusing on wrapping one or two small trees or bushes in many lights instead of evenly distributing the lights throughout the property. He noted that families could outline their windows or the sides of the house with lights to make their homes look like gingerbread houses. He encouraged families to play with color, perhaps wrapping one tree in green and another in red.
Whatever your color palette or number of lights, Frankenbach noted most people tend to have a visceral reaction to seeing a home all aglow. He believes it stirs something deep inside them and recalls childhood memories when a simple light bulb made one feel that Christmas was near.