Last night, I sat down at a bar with an old friend of mine who is a small business owner in the neighborhood. I brought up the holiday lights, how happy I was to see them, and what a nice moment it is when they all go up.
He heaved a pained sigh and pounded his whiskey down on the bar top. "Oh, the Christmas lights!" he said with a surprising level of pain and distress. "How few people know what a drama they are. How few people appreciate them to the level they deserve."
I laughed, but little did I know.
It turns out the holiday lights are an enormous, costly production that have caused arguments, debt and distress for our neighbors.
Here is what I learned: The lights have to be put up by a contractor, who needs to get a special permit from the city. Installing the lights costs between $800 and $1,000 per string, and that's just for installation of a regular string, not one of the fancier ones.
There are only two or three companies that can install the lights in New York City, so they set the prices and there is no negotiation. The city also requires a permit for the lights, and there are high liabilities.
These prices do not include the electricity costs, which the person responsible for the lights receives enormous Con Edison bills monthly to pay for them.
In total, it tends to cost $15,000 to $20,000 for the lights, and no one wants to pay for them.
There were many organizations in Greenpoint that did not feel the holiday lights are a good investment and refuse to participate. This meant that on several occasions, one or two businesses were responsible for footing the entire bill.
This came to a head 2011, when the Greenpoint Business Alliance paid for the lights and found it very difficult to persuade business owners to participate in the fundraising for the cost.
Because of the timeline to get the lights up, often the people in charge of the lights were left begging for cash after they were installed. The most common response was "come see me next week," until the lights were taken down.
The following year, the Greenpoint Business Alliance disbanded over an argument regarding the lights. A member of the organization had entered into a three-year contract in 2011, and when the alliance decided it was not worth the stress and headache, the organization dissolved.
This meant that the individual who signed the contract was left holding the bag. For the next two years, the two friends went begging at businesses for contributions to help them fund the lights and found it extremely difficult, again, to get cooperation.
Many business owners engaged in bitter arguments regarding the lights and their funding. Those who had long been in charge learned a lesson: never again get left holding the bag.
The holiday lights are back this year, it seems, thanks to our friends at Greenpoint Florist, who have taken it on as their issue.
I think we as a community value the lights, and we should encourage all businesses to donate to them. This should not be an optional part of our community.
I think knowledge is power, and we should thank Greenpoint Florist for taking this on and make sure to give them a lot of great business this holiday season. We should also ask them who has not participated and encourage those businesses to contribute.
The lights create an ambiance we all enjoy and a sense of community, which highlights our eagerness to shop locally. It's important to know what our fellow community members are doing for the niceties of the holiday season, and it should be a communal effort and not felt as a punishment.