Deck the mall...fa la la la

Vancouver Mall used the theme “Winter Wonderland” in decorating its ceilings and walkways, including these lighted, decorative “snowballs,” and a very large wreath. With an ambitious crew, it takes just a few days to get the mall ready for holiday shopping.

Barry Finemore
Vancouver Mall used the theme “Winter Wonderland” in decorating its ceilings and walkways, including these lighted, decorative “snowballs,” and a very large wreath. With an ambitious crew, it takes just a few days to get the mall ready for holiday shopping.

‘Twas the wee hours in early November when, throughout the Portland-Vancouver area, just a few creatures were stirring — among them a crew at Vancouver Mall, who hustled and bustled to transform the sprawling building with a festive collection of holiday lights and decorations.

This year’s display, themed “Winter Wonderland,” includes icicle lights; oversize, lighted, decorative snowballs; large wreaths; and garland swags. The display builds on a centerpiece familiar to Vancouver Mall shoppers in years past: Santa’s Wish House, where youngsters share with the North Pole’s most famous resident what’s on their Christmas list.

The job of decorating a 900,000-square-foot building’s entrances, food court, the courts near the anchor tenants, exterior and other “common” areas is no minor undertaking. It begins with planning in late September and early October. An in-house maintenance team, together with outside specialists, install the decorations in the hours between the mall’s closing and opening in early November, says Jessica Curtis, marketing director with Vancouver Mall.

The mall’s crew has many years of experience and has the installation routine practically down to a science, she says. Job schedules are adjusted so the installation happens over just a couple of nights. This year, the installation began on Nov. 7 and was done in time for Santa’s arrival on Nov. 12.

“They can make it happen quickly,” Curtis says. “It’s pretty amazing. They really know their stuff.”

Vancouver Mall partners on the installation and design with Ambius, an outfit that does interior and exterior landscaping, holiday decorations and other services for businesses.

The 11 lighted snowballs hung throughout the mall are the new addition to the holiday display this year.

The display also includes some 25,000 indoor lights; one oversized wreath in the food court that measures 72 inches in diameter; and six holiday trees at Santa’s Wish House.

Most of the decorations will stay up through the new year, though Santa’s Wish House will come down right after Christmas, Curtis says.

Santa’s Wish House is decorated with 150 red poinsettias, purchased from Vancouver’s Prairie High School as part of a benefit for the school’s senior class party.

Santa’s Wish House has been a focal point of the mall’s holiday display for some three years, designed and built by The Becker Group, a Maryland firm that designs and builds holiday decor.

If you feel a bit more in the spirit when you step into a shopping mall outfitted for the holidays, it’s not your imagination. A study released in the fall of 2014 found that mall shopping helps get consumers in the holiday spirit. Four-fifths of holiday shoppers, or 81 percent, agree that mall and store decorations get them in the spirit, and almost nine out of 10 say a mall is a great place to see holiday décor, according to the study, which evaluated shopping behavior and perceptions for the 2014 holiday season.

Curtis says putting up the decorations requires an immense amount of work, and that they aim to inspire “the sense of the season.”

Retailers had anticipated a very merry holiday season in terms of business. The National Retail Federation, a trade group, noted in early October that it expected sales in November and December to increase 3.6 percent, much greater than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent and greater than the seven-year average of 3.4 percent since the economic recovery began in 2009. The federation says the three main things that could impact consumer confidence and shopping patterns were “increased geopolitical uncertainty, the presidential election outcome and unseasonably warm weather.”

Vancouver Mall, which houses 151 retail stores, 26 eateries and a Cinetopia movie theater, had announced in October that — in addition to its holiday display — it was taking another step to honor the spirit of the season: Closing its doors on Thanksgiving and reopening on Black Friday, one of the busiest days of the year.”

The mall’s parent company, Centennial Real Estate, says it wants to “renew the tradition of families spending Thanksgiving together” and bring back “the excitement that has historically surrounded the busiest shopping day of the year.”

Removing the decorations and lights is another significant undertaking for the mall’s crew, and begs the question: Where do all of the elements go that make up the display until the next holiday season rolls around?

Curtis says Vancouver Mall, like most shopping malls, owns its display elements and replaces them, as needed. It stores the decorations and lights onsite. That allows lights to be replaced and other required maintenance to be performed throughout the year.

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