“New Home for the Holidays”

Famed Christmas-display Firm Now Located in Mount Vernon

The Journal News

Mount Vernon — With fall foliage still peaking, workers at a local warehouse were busy stringing lights around huge garlands and touching up dings on a gigantic toy train set.

Some of the country’s most iconic holiday displays were being readied for their annual rollout, and it was all happening here at American Christmas’ new headquarters at 30 Warren Place.

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Wires for an enormous set of Christmas lights that will sit in front of the McGraw-Hill Building at 1221 Sixth Ave. lay in an unsightly pile, while one of the white wire angels that grace the Channel Gardens in Rockefeller Center stood awkwardly in a jumble. The toy train set being worked on was destined for the Time-Life Building at 1271 Sixth Ave.

“It’s a lot less glamorous in this setting,” said Frederic Schwam, American Christmas’ CEO, during a tour of the new complex, “but we have the vision for what (each display) could become.”

The busiest time of the year for the 35 full-time and 80 seasonal workers at the company is October and November, when they ship decorations to about 2,500 stores in North America and install about 300 decorations in office tower lobbies and store-fronts like Saks Fifth Avenue and Cartier.

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No two are alike

This month, American Christmas’ crews will work long hours inside and outside of office tower lobbies setting up huge wreaths, giant “Nutcracker” soldiers and other supersized displays.

The spectacular designs are a type of holiday arms race along Sixth Avenue.

“There is no question that in every business there is competition, and the real estate companies compete with each other,” said Schwam, an Armonk resident.

In this business, “WOW!” is the desired effect. Customizing “wow” for each client is a challenge.

“No two jobs are alike,” Schwam said. “This is important for us because we do so much work in such a concentrated area, particularly in Manhattan, and we never want to take the chance that any of our clients might walk across the street and see something similar to what we put in place for them.”

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By the second week of December, the company’s frantic work ends, only to resume Dec. 27 when all the installations must be dismantled and returned to the company’s multilevel warehouse.

Move to Mt. Vernon

Schwam said he chose to relocate to Mount Vernon earlier this year because his lease expired May 31 and he wanted to consolidate from five buildings with 68,000 square feet into a single, 110,000-square-foot complex.

The proximity to highways and the New York City subway system was also a draw because he still has many employees who live in New York City.

Schwam said his company intends to be a good citizen by donating excess holiday decorations to local charities.

American Christmas also will reach out to its new neighbors in the city by decorating Mount Vernon City Hall, police headquarters and the firehouse on South Fulton Avenue, most likely in the first week of December.

Amid the holiday décor, one thing noticeably missing in American Christmas’ warehouse and its designs is any trappings of religion. That absence is intentional.

“It’s kind of generic in that sense,” Schwam said. “Nobody is looking at it and thinking religion. They’re just thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’”