When Rochester’s Big Bright Light Show ends
BY SHELBY TANKERSLEY
OU News Bureau
Since 2006, it’s been a Christmas tradition for the city to hang lights from the roofs of businesses all the way to the ground. It transforms Main Street into what is considered one of Michigan’s top holiday attractions according to outlets such as Only in Your State, The Detroit Metro Times and CBS Detroit.
The lights officially come down after the Fire and Ice Festival ends in late January. After being bathed in light for about two months, downtown simply doesn’t look the same without them.
“There is nothing quite like looking out my window and seeing those beautiful Christmas lights. I miss them when they’re gone,” Cathy Schulte, a co-owner of the Holy Cannolis bakery said.
The light show became a tradition after the city realized how much it could boost stores and restaurants.
“It greatly affects our businesses,” said Kristi Trevarrow, executive director for Rochester’s Downtown Development Authority. “The first year we recorded an average of 29 percent increase in business.”
The city owns the lights and handles setup and removal. With the influx in customers it brings, it has become important. Trevarrow said the DDA works all year to raise the $230,000 needed for the show.
The lights are inspired by a similar display previously featured at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Here, businesses pick the color they would like to have during their first winter and keep it while they’re downtown.
Not only is it good for business, but also many of the vendors downtown enjoy how it creates a magic that only the December holidays can foster.
“My favorite part of it is the first night, it’s cool to see them light up,” said Mike Tomaschko, the city worker in charge of putting up the lights. “It’s like being a kid again.”
“We just love that people love it,” Kim Carrao, a manager at Janet Varner, said.
Some even work harder so people can shop until the lights turn off at midnight. Schulte said Holy Cannolis modifies hours so anyone at the light show late can stop by.
“We spend most of December just working around the clock,” she said. “Most nights we’re here until midnight. If people keep walking the sidewalks, we’ll be open.”
She said she’s met customers from all over the world who come to Michigan to see this light show or whose families say it’s a must-see while they’re in the states.
“We love the light show,” Schulte said.
It’s become so central to the Christmas experience downtown that the lighting crew has developed an emotional connection. The team spends a lot of time with these lights — seven weeks putting them up and three taking them down.
Tomaschko, who has led the lighting crew for four years, said it’s a big job.
He and his team handle the same set of lights almost every year. It’s uncommon for the lights to burn out or break, which makes for little work during the event. The crew usually only has to work at the start and end of the seven-week show.
He doesn’t feel bittersweet taking them down because he knows that soon enough it will be time to hang them back up.
“It’s just another day on the job to take them down,” Tomaschko said. “I know that we’ll be doing it again in eight months. It’s more of an intermission than a goodbye.”
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