Brandon Lewis looked on as one of his workers stood about 25 feet in the air, stretching from his ladder to just barely reach the peak of the roof he was stringing with Christmas lights.
The job looked tough, maybe even dangerous, but Lewis and his crew are used to the risk.
For most of the year, the decorators are hanging from ladders painting houses. But when Christmas season rolls around, the Painter Ready painters trade in their brushes and pails for lights and wreaths to work in the Christmas Ready division of the business.
"We have some really good professionals that work for us, but during the winter months you cannot give away a paint job," Lewis, the company's owner, said. "That's the worst time of the year you can tell your men that work is slowing down."
So rather than risk losing good employees to steadier work, Lewis decided to start his Christmas decorating business in 2010. He expects Christmas Ready will break even this year and hopes as the company gets more established in years to come it will turn a profit.
"Roller Coaster" Work
Several Chattanoogans open temporary holiday-themed businesses starting mid-October to capitalize on the biggest spending season of the year.
"The seasonal crunch - it's like a roller coaster," said Bob Eichelberger, who was working a Calendar Club kiosk at Hamilton Place Thursday afternoon.
His wife has sold calendars and board games for years, but this is his first time helping her out. Business has been steadily building so far, he said, but he's bracing for when that roller coaster reaches the top of its ascent on Black Friday.
"After that it's a thousand-mile-per-hour run to Christmas," he said.
Hamilton Place officials were unable to say how many temporary holiday shopping outlets they had, but Katie Reinsmidt, spokeswoman for CBL & Associates Properties Inc. which owns Hamilton Place and Northgate malls, said each has between 15 to 40 kiosks rented.
Locally owned businesses also benefit from the holiday boom. Chris Thomas, executive director of the Chattanooga Market, said the weekends leading up to Christmas are the biggest markets of the year. In 2010, the thousands who strolled by the 120 to 150 holiday booths spent $150,000, and this year Thomas expects that amount to climb well above $200,000.
And demand is growing. Thomas has hosted a holiday market for the past 10 years, but 2010 was the first he ever extended it two more weekends and moved it inside to Warehouse Row.
That shopping center didn't have enough space, so this year he booked 36,000 square feet in the Chattanooga Convention Center. That still left more than 50 vendors out in the cold, so next year he plans to roughly double his space.
"We probably could do it this year, but we don't like to wait till the last minute," he said. "We're trying to see what we can get away with, but we're kind of down to the wire."
High pressure seems to be the name of the game when it comes to holiday sales. Heather Hale spends long days sitting at a Hamilton Place kiosk writing names and personalized messages on ornaments during the mall's extended holiday hours.
She and three other writers will have to work under the close scrutiny of impatient customers while they hunch over their desks, holding their faces inches from the clay and glass surfaces they spend all day printing on.
She writes dedications for a lot of wedding anniversaries, baby's first Christmases and occasionally an inside joke from a bachelorette party.
"I love it, but the hours aren't so much fun," she said. "I'll sleep come January."