SAINT NICK IN RESIDENCE AT GATTI GATTI
Article in Statesman Journal – Friday, December 7, 2007
Holiday display is tradition for Salem family business
There’s more than meets the eye at the Gatti Gatti lighting display on Liberty Street SE in Salem. Lots more, including Santa’s handicap-accessible workshop, New York-style window displays, and reindeer with real antlers.
And it all started because of the ‘70s energy crisis.
“The whole thing started when my kids were young,” Rich Gatti said, “back in the ‘70s under Governor McCall. There was an energy crisis, and everybody was conserving energy, and nobody had any Christmas lights at all.”
After the energy crisis was over the South Salem business decided it was time to get back to doing Christmas lights, Gatti adds.
“It was a matter of timing really, and people were ready for it, because the response was just fantastic,” Gatti said. “It really struck a chord with people. And one thing lead to another, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
What the law firm has been doing for the past 26 years is decorating its buildings with lights and holiday figures and displays.
“We added a Santa house because at the mall there are such long lines to see Santa and there’s no privacy.” Gatti said. “And then the malls started charging for photos with Santa, and some people can’t afford that.”
“Here, we have elves to help control the crowd, and the kids get privacy and talk to Santa, and Mrs. Santa takes their picture, and we give them the picture – we don’t charge for it.”
The Santa house was designed and built to order, and specifically made handicap accessible.
Inside there’s a work bench so children feel like they’re dropping in on Santa at work.
“We want to include everybody, whether they’re young or old, able-bodied or in a wheelchair,” Gatti said. “We want everybody to feel welcome.”
The holiday display started simply and grew, Gatti said. “It started with my dad and my little brother Jimmy doing the lights. Jimmy was in his early 20s, and he’d climb to the top of the big tree to hang the lights. Used to scare the hell out of me.”
Now the work starts in early October, when Paul Stich, the firm’s full-time maintenance man, begins preparations for putting up the display.
Jordan Pearson helps with the project as he has for the past four years.
Lights are checked and burned-out ones are replaces, a display design is mapped out, and light hanging begins in early November.
“We’ve had a lot of creative minds working on the lights over the years,” Pearson said. “We add some new stuff every year, but we also keep a lot of the old stuff. We always change around the color scheme, but a lot of it is the same each year.”
Pearson paused to look around at the lights and displays.
“It’s a big job.”
On top of the smaller building is a full-sized sculpture of Santa and his sleigh, complete with elves hanging on for dear life.
“We bring in a crane to put Santa and his sleigh on the building,” Gatti said. “The Santa is really unique – it’s a work of art.”
For those who might wonder, the antlers on the display’s reindeer are real deer antlers, procured through a brother’s hunting trips.
In the building below the sleigh, Pam Pearson – Jordan’s mother – works on creating window displays that everyone refers to as “New York windows.”
“I try to have a combination of windows that appeal to children – fun windows, and then elegant windows for the grownups,” she said. “I try to focus on the holidays – not just Christmas but all the holidays around this time of year. Some of the extra touches haven’t worked out”, Gatti said. “In the past we had live music. We had the South Salem Choir sing one year. We finally gave up on the live music. Every time we scheduled them, it rained.”
Why does Gati Gatti go to the trouble and expense, and a doubling of their electrical bill for two months?
“We want to give the children a memory. That’s the goal,” Gatti said.
“It’s rewarding and worthwhile, when you turn on the lights and the kids are wandering around with their eyes wide and just lost in looking at them,” Jordan said, pausing from his work. “It’s really magical.”