In August, a warehouse behind the South Hill Mall caught fire, destroying all of the mall’s holiday decorations — about $200,000 worth.
It’s hard to miss the towering 30-foot tree in the center court at the South Hill Mall.
From top to bottom, it’s decorated for the holidays with giant red bulbs, lights, snowmen hats and snowflakes, catching the eyes of passers-by.
But in other hallways, looking closely, it might seem as if the mall is a little sparse on holiday decorations this year.
“People notice that it’s different,” South Hill Mall property manager Wendy Noel said. “They don’t know the backstory and all the gray hairs it took to get there.”
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That backstory is this: In August, a warehouse behind the mall caught fire, destroying all of the mall’s holiday decorations — about $200,000 worth.
All that was left?
“The only thing we really managed to save was the Santa sleigh,” South Hill Mall marketing director Patty Summers said, adding that professional help was needed to restore it.
But everything else was toast. Gone were the trees, the banners, the lights to decorate the columns. Even tools and Easter decorations were gone. If it wasn’t burned, it was smoke-damaged, Summers said.
With only months until the start of the holiday season, Summers was feeling the pressure.
It might have been OK if these were average holiday decorations. But when it comes to decorating malls, not to mention 20- to 30-foot trees, there are rules. Ornaments have to be shatterproof and wired onto trees so they won’t fall off. And everything had to be special-ordered.
Special orders could take months to arrive.
So as soon as she could, Summers put in an order for three trees. Normally, the mall had only two large trees.
While Summers waited for those to arrive, she did her best to find ornaments. Corporate decided on themes for each of its malls — South Hill was “Let it Snow”— and the retrofitted ornaments were arriving soon. Salvaged decorations were also sent from other malls.
“Everybody’s been so kind and generous when we asked for some help,” Summers said.
But more was needed. Summers bought most decorations retail, nearly clearing out nearby Michaels and Hobby Lobby stores, she said. While it gave her the opportunity to buy new decorations, she wanted everything to look cohesive.
The trees were…