Christmas Lights Are Bright Spot for Retailers

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- All those blinking lights, glowing Rudolphs and bright stars are giving the nation's economy a welcome gift this Christmas season.

According to data from the National Retail Federation and BIG Research, the U.S. is on target to spend more than $6 billion of Christmas decorations, up more than 8% from last year and the most spent over the seven years the group has tracked such data.

According to estimates by NRF, the average person is expected to spend nearly $47 on holiday decorations and an additional $18 on seasonal flowers such as poinsettias. That's good news for retailers inclduding Lowe's (Stock Quote: LOW) and Home Depot (Stock Quote: HD) that sell Christmas lights and decorations. It also bodes well for retailers such as Sears (Stock Quote: SHLD), Costco (Stock Quote: COST) and Target (Stock Quote: TGT) that, this season, have started selling live Christmas trees online, with plenty of opportunities to add lights and ornaments to your shopping cart.

Christmas lights have been a lucrative business endeavor since the earliest days of electric light, according to a history compiled by the Library of Congress.

In 1880, Thomas Edison crafted a strand of electric bulbs and decorated his laboratory with them.

In 1882, Edison's business partner, Edward H. Johnson, took the concept a bit further and hand-wired an 80-bulb strand of red, white and blue light bulbs that he dangled around his Christmas tree.

The public, despite its willingness to use lit candles as decorations, expressed safety concerns and were hesitant to embrace electric decorations until 1895, when President Grover Cleveland made the technological leap for the White House Christmas Tree.

The real breakthrough came in 1903, when General Electric (Stock Quote: GE) introduced far more affordable lighting kits. Before its entry in the marketplace, the cost of lighting an average Christmas tree would have cost roughly $2,000 in today's dollars, not even including the professional electricians needed to connect the strands to a power source.

Sales of Christmas lights also grew along with the fortunes of New York entrepreneur Albert Sadacca who, in 1917, began what would become the Noma Electric Co., which nearly monopolized the Christmas light market until the 1960s.

What may be helping drive up spending on holiday lights and decorations this year is that households are starting to own more than one Christmas Tree. "We're finding that the many Christmas tree options available to consumers today are being utilized more and more as holiday decorative accents, such as wreaths, swags and garlands," Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association says in a statement. "The two-plus-tree household is evidence that the family Christmas tree has evolved into a design feature, both indoor and out, rather than the main traditional decoration during the holiday season."

For those fed up with tangled cords, missing bulbs and cracked Santas, there is also a thriving business among those willing to string your lights for a fee.

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