Each year as the days get colder, downtown Raleigh transforms into a mystical winter wonderland. Multitudes of colorful, flashing lights and decorations line the streets and the huge, dazzling Christmas tree tops it all off in front of the State Capitol building.
The man behind this magic is Sam Hardwick of Mosca Design, a Raleigh-based commercial holiday decorating consulting firm that has decorated the city for 25 years. Mosca Design supplies occupants of downtown’s buildings with holiday decorations, including giant ornaments, topiary, large-scale displays, garlands, wreaths, lights and more.
Hardwick is in charge of putting all the decorations together each year to make downtown the premier spot for residents getting into the holiday spirit. We talked with Hardwick, who has worked as decorator for four years, about how he makes Raleigh so festive.
Territory Sales Manager
When do you start decorating downtown?
Typically in the first part of November. The businesses will start setting up and just won’t turn them on until December. There are a few applications we started way back in September.
How long does it take to set all the decorations up?
About four or five days to do everything, depending on the timing. Most of our guys come in overnight so they have full access to what needs to be done. They can do the big tree in a couple of days.
What all goes into making Raleigh festive for the holidays?
On Fayetteville Street, we use a lot of wreaths on the light poles. Those have been a standard, tried-and-true tradition because it looks so nice when you view them from a distance. The trunks of the 90 trees lining Fayetteville Street are wrapped in LED lights and those are the first to go up and the last to come down. We also do the lighting on the Plaza tree, which varies year to year in size and has anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 lights. It changes if the tree gets larger, but we always use a natural tree. We also use low, steady-burn twinkle lights, which really make a statement.
How do you make each year’s decorations new and exciting?
First, we’ll go into a municipality or business and see what their interests are, if they want something traditional, or more of a “Griswold” level of Christmas. We look at those wants and try to meet them as best as we can. If you’re looking at a more traditional [location], we go with the typical leaves and garlands. If you’re in a high-tech area, we’ll do more lights. We come up with a plan depending on where it’s going but we try to keep the same general thing, as people become accustomed to them. Instead of making drastic changes every year, we just add onto what was already done. However, new things for Fayetteville Street are currently in the works.
What’s the most important aspect of decorating downtown? What are the most essential decorations?
Dependability. We want to make sure what we put up is going to operate correctly. Second, we want to make sure nothing is going to hurt anybody, that nothing is going to fall or electrocute someone. And we don’t want to damage any of the trees or other existing structures. But most important of all is that “wow” factor. We want people to look at the decorations and go, “Wow, that looks nice.”
What year has been your favorite holiday decoration in downtown?
Every year is really a favorite. Everything looks better each year to me because you learn something new every year. But I would like to see more lights; I think that’s kind of the public consensus. I look forward to the next year every year.
What kind of innovative decorations do you use that Raleigh residents wouldn’t ssee anywhere else?
Typical lighting in the Christmas decoration industry has been C-7 lighting. That’s just a bulb you screw into a socket to light up a decoration. Coming in from overseas are these miniature rope lightings and we’re seeing more of that. It’s a different type of rope than what you’d see in a hardware store; the rope lighting has a smoother, rounder look and they’re more flexible and you can curve them around structures so they appear more modern-looking. It’s more expensive but it’s a more progressive way of doing Christmas decorations. Additionally, there are designs coming in that are going to look different and add more to the holiday season.
What’s your favorite part of decorating Downtown Raleigh for the holidays?
Going downtown when all the lights are on and seeing the kids, and seeing the parents watch their kids. It’s great seeing people look at the lights and go, “wow.” It’s really nice to watch people take their family Christmas pictures in front of our lights. It’s just a neat thing to see, and it’s something I’m extremely passionate about.