Cindy Honeycutt calls her business a “hobby gone wild.”
Honeycutt and her husband Lin, owners of the Holiday Light Store, have been decorating their yard off of Ten Ten Road since 1996. The massive display takes weeks to set up and frequently makes the lists of best residential Christmas lights in the Triangle.
“A lot of the adults say it makes them think about their childhood,” she said. “They love coming by and seeing the lights. It’s a lot of fun, and they like bringing their grandchildren or their children to see the lights. Some people tell me they come by my yard several times and just sit out there and look at the lights.”
With more than 800,000 lights in the yard, some breakage is inevitable, but the Honeycutts found that few companies would repair the elaborate displays. Lin Honeycutt learned to do the repairs himself and discovered other hobbyists needed the same service. The couple eventually opened the storefront in Raleigh and also began creating custom lighting displays.
“We’re the only ones in North Carolina who do this, and it’s starting to become rarer to find,” said Cindy Honeycutt.
The Honeycutts have owned the store for about 15 years, and about 85 percent of their customers find them through the store’s website. Diehard decorators — from Alaska to Florida, Hawaii to Canada and everywhere in between — think nothing of shelling out hundreds of dollars for an animated Santa and his reindeer.
“I tell people if you’re a NASCAR fan, you’re going to look for everything NASCAR,” said Cindy Honeycutt. “If you are a decorator, with outdoor displays for Christmas, you’re going to look for this.”
The team’s busiest time of the year is from August to Thanksgiving, filling residential orders and creating large displays for golf courses or businesses like Hill Ridge Farms in Youngsville. Any repair work is done from January to June, and Cindy Honeycutt says that’s when you see how much people care about their holiday decorations.
“You’ll have people bring in their tree-toppers that they’ve had for a long time,” she said.
“This lady brought us a snowflake that you could buy at Walmart or anywhere for $15 or so, but she said it was her mother’s. She wanted us to take the lights out and put new lights in. By the time we got through with it, labor was like $60, but she wanted it done.”
Holiday lighting is such an integral part of the season that many people call in the experts to get their yard ready for a holiday party or gathering.
Matt Hyden of the Christmas Light Installation Pros Association, says the industry has grown tremendously since the professional group launched in San Diego 20 years ago. Since then, more than 200 installers nationwide have been certified through the group.
“We wanted to provide a certification process that installers can go through to ensure they are not only safe on the site, but know what they are doing,” he said.
Scott Dickover, owner of Christmas Lights Raleigh, has been designing displays and hanging lights in the Triangle for about three years. Depending on the square footage of the house, typical outdoor lighting jobs cost between $700 and $1,200 — not including lights.
Homeowners call him if they have hard-to-reach spots like tall trees or a steep roof. And frequently, his clients are also interested in making a splash in the neighborhood.
“One house gets done and then the next family is like, ‘We should do it, too.’ One person can often light up the whole rest of the street by starting it initially,” he said. “I start getting calls in July from bigger neighborhoods.”
Dickover loves that “little bit of amazement” when he finishes a job.
“Every time I decorate something,” he said, “when I flip them on at the end of the day as it gets dark, that’s the first word that comes out of everybody’s mouth — ‘Wow!’
“It’s my favorite word.”
Zaxby’s ‘big show’
The biggest, most wow-inducing job Dickover has ever done was decorating the Zaxby’s in Fuquay-Varina last year. He calls it “over the top and spectacular,” and the restaurant’s owners agree.
Chuck and Brandy Taylor, who also own Zaxby’s franchises in Garner and Durham, bought the Fuquay-Varina location in July 2017 and wanted a “big bang” to reintroduce the business to the community, says Brandy Taylor.
“My husband and I love Christmas, so that was a no-brainer. It was the first big holiday since we took over the restaurant,” she said. “This was a little ‘thank you’ to our customers and the community from us.”
The display included more than 10,000 LED lights and took four people four days to complete. In the final push to get the lights up by Thanksgiving, Dickover and his crew worked through the night, in 36-degree weather.
“We pretty much drenched the building in lights,” said Brandy Taylor, who lives in Fuquay-Varina with her husband. “There were lights on all the Leyland cypress, all around the back of the property. We had an illuminated Christmas tree on the roof, drip lights all around the edge. We put lights on anything that was standing. Anything that didn’t move got covered in lights.
“From the road, it’s spectacular. There’s nothing else there but fast food signs and business signs down that main strip of road, so when you come up on our restaurant, it was a big show.”
She says the roughly $11,000 it cost to put up the display was completely worth it — just for the publicity it generated. Customers and passersby commented on neighborhood message boards and on social media. Well into the spring and summer, Taylor would get favorable comments at community or Chamber of Commerce events.
“Once I said Zaxby’s, they’d mention the Christmas lights,” she said. “We were just overwhelmed by the feedback. We’ll do this every year now.”
Besides the buzz on social media, there was one more benefit from all those glittering lights.
“It sets a tone for the season,” said Brandy Taylor. “In a retail setting, people aren’t always the nicest at that time of the year. If you’re surrounded by all that spirit and positivity, then maybe your customers and your employees will feel a little bit bad about being rude and grumpy. It makes everybody feel good.”