For some people, decorating for Christmas is an important part of the season's fun: unpacking the decorations, laying them out perfectly and perhaps snapping a few shots for social media.
For other people, not so much — they like the end results of halls fully decked, so to speak, but the actual decking is far from their favorite part.
Luckily and perhaps unsurprisingly, in a world where everything can be bought on demand, Christmas decorations are no exception. Instead of living year-round with decorations only displayed for about six weeks, those less inclined to do the decking themselves can have the team at Rent-A-Christmas fully decorate their homes for the holiday season, and then make those holiday decorations quietly disappear when the holidays are over.
Founder Kristen Parness, who teaches high school English when she and her costumed elves aren’t decorating other people’s spaces for the holidays, stumbled onto the business concept when she and her husband (then boyfriend) were living in Brooklyn and accidentally bought a bit too much to prepare for the holiday season.
“We had this idea one year when we were living in Bay Ridge [a neighborhood in Brooklyn]. We had just started dating; we had no decorations and absolutely zero storage space,” she says. “We went to Home Depot and bought $500 of decorations, and the house looked amazing, but we were like, ‘What are we gonna do with this? This is so crazy; it would be great if we could rent this stuff.’”
And though they couldn’t just rent the stuff themselves, Parness and her husband Judah did launch an innovative business to essentially allow others to do so. In 2018, that business will serve about 40 customers between Thanksgiving and Christmas — helped by a work crew of 10 part-time elves.
To make the magic happen, Parness works directly with two interior decorating suppliers who provide the vast majority of the items she uses to build her holiday designs — but not all of them, as Parness still likes to pick up odds and ends in a variety of small shops as well as at places like Target. Because in recent years the company has begun to contract with more corporate clients — think banks, stores and restaurants — its workforce has also grown and become a bit more specialized. Rent-A-Christmas also contracts with a firefighter and electrician to be sure that its more complex lighting designs do not accidentally burn down any buildings.
When the season isn’t on, the firm rents warehouse space in the Bronx. The warehouse is also the firm’s headquarters as well as its storage space and work hub. Here the elves build the garlands and wreaths they'll use in decorating for clients — often wearing coats because the heat is more theoretical than actual in the warehouse.
As for who uses the service, Parness says the Rent-A-Christmas client roster is actually quite varied. Corporate clients and wealthier customers tend to drive the firm’s revenue, with their larger and more expensive designs. But in a city where apartment square-footage is always at a premium, a rentable Christmas has broad appeal.
“It’s not only rich people. It’s so widespread,” she says. “We have people with one-bedroom apartments or who are really busy or have a baby. And then, yes, there are obviously rich people who go all out.”
The service range offered by the firm during the holiday season is varied to match its client base. At the low end, a wreath and lights installation costs $185. On the upper end is a $12,000 package that essentially lights and gift-wraps an entire living space. Businesses like restaurants, bars, salons, banks, bagel shops and law firms can buy packages starting at $15,000.
The most popular consumer package, according to Parness, is the “Feels Like Home” package for $500 — which includes a 6.5-foot artificial tree, lights, tree skirt, tinsel, ornaments and a star, as well as a team of elves to set it up. The average high price consumers pay is around $5,000.
Also, the elves sing while they set up.
It’s not quite a full-time gig for Parness and her husband — they’ve both kept their day jobs in teaching and sales, respectively. But their business, while small, has been growing for the last few year and has built up a roster of loyal users.
And as Parness noted, in terms of jobs, spreading glitter and cheer for the holiday is not a bad way to go.