On a dingy industrial avenue north of the Bronx, next door to a FedEx shipping center and across the street from Pronto Gas Heating Supplies, sits a nondescript factory where Christmas is made for retail stores.
The outsized red velvet ribbon that wraps Cartier on Fifth Avenue in New York, Santa’s Workshop at The Grove in Los Angeles, and the white rows of horn-blowing angels where billions of family Christmas pictures have been captured are all designed, created, assembled, and stored at this spot by Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based American Christmas, one of Santa’s biggest secrets.
“We started a consumer business on the ground floor of the plant two years ago and people come in off the street and say, ‘Oh, you decorate the local pizzeria? And I say, ‘No, we decorate the local Empire State Building,” said Stephen Lusardi, a former Macy’s executive who has been American Christmas’s director of retail for the past three years.
The business got its start in the Sixties when a Manhattan florist named Marvin Schwam and his son Fred started getting orders from retailers for their artificial pine garlands and flowers. Quality faux flowers were rare then and they started receiving huge orders from Macy’s and Woolworths. That led them to a decision to focus on the holidays. And American Christmas was born.
As the business grew, the company’s offerings reached far beyond flowers and into the design of one-of-a-kind decorations including structures, statues, animatronics—and gargantuan ribbons wrapped around four-story buildings.
American Christmas’s 150 full-time employees include designers, assemblers, and installers who create Christmas for Van Cleef & Arpel’s, American Dream, Cartier, The Grove, Old Navy and scores of restaurants, office buildings, hotels and more across the country.
On American Christmas’s industrial side street in Mount Vernon, it’s always December.
“It’s Christmas all the time here,” Lusardi said. “In February we start reaching out to clients to see if they want to make any changes. We are involved in the Saks Fifth Avenue storefront decorations. Each decorated window is assigned to a different team, and it takes each team about three months to complete their windows.”
Across the street from Saks, according to Lusardi, sits the world’s most popular background for Christmas photos—the 12 horn-blowing angels that form a V in front of 30 Rockefeller Center and its ice rink.
“Millions of people see what we do, and it’s not always a million LED lights. The angels are just copper wire and white Christmas lights and they’re the same angels that have been in Rockefeller Center since the Sixties,” Lusardi said. “We carefully store them every year and they all have names like Hope, Serenity, Peace, Love, and Joy.”
American Christmas gives tours of its workshop, and Lusardi is happy to show members of the retail industry around. Find out more on the American Christmas website and witness Santa’s secret elves at work.