That's lit: Ambridge man decorates with 20,000 lights
There are two types of people in this world: those who decorate for Christmas on Nov. 1, and those who don't.
While most fall into one of the two categories, there are a select few who take their holiday enthusiast title to a higher level, resulting in beautiful outdoor light displays.
Perhaps the brightest – and certainly most decorated – locally, is not far from the Sewickley Valley.
Affectionately referred to by locals as "Lower Ambridge," 217 Maplewood Ave. is where Bob Dunn has lived since the 1970s. The real-life Clark Griswold draws in thousands of spectators every year.
"I started with three strands of lights — one on my gutter and two windows," Dunn said.
His latest count? Over 20,000.
And each year, he adds a new strand or decoration.
"We have visitors that have come for years, so I'll ask them if they can point out what's new," Dunn said.
Christmas lovers from Mars, Pittsburgh, New Castle and places all over make the drive to the area in Ambridge once known for its melting pot of working-class, ethnic families.
Dunn, along with his wife Denise, dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, waving at onlookers.
More impressive than the light display that has now spread to the four houses on either side of Dunn's is the donation box on his front lawn, benefitting St. Jude's Children's Hospital.
"I'd say about 10 years ago, we were passing candy canes out to everyone who stopped to see the lights, and a man asked if we were collecting donations. 'Donations? For what?' I asked him. He gave me a bottle of champagne from his trunk," Dunn said, laughing. "I went inside and turned the television on and saw a commercial for St. Jude's and thought, "I could see if people would donate to that hospital.'"
And the donations rolled in. Over the last decade, Dunn said, he has been able to donate over $35,000 to the hospital.
Dunn begins decorating in October, something Do It Best Owner and General Manager David Strano said many in the area also do. The Ambridge hardware store is where Dunn purchases many of his decorations, as he has for over 20 years.
Christmas, Strano said, is the store's second busiest time of year – coming in second to spring.
"Christmas is important to us. We attend trade shows all year long, starting in January, to make sure we are providing the most sought-after and desired items," Strano said.
"In general — as always — our live trees are most popular. Fake trees are, too," Strano said.
Also on that list are inflatable snowmen characters (Steelers and Penguins locally, of course), Lemax scene houses and laser lights. The hardware store begins displaying holiday decorations at the end of August and beginning of September.
And if you're wondering about Dunn and whether or not his electric provider cuts him a break to light a neighborhood for the holidays, the answer is simple – they don't.
"I get asked this question all the time," Dunn said, chuckling. "I don't get any breaks from the electric company. I have my lights on for little over a month. Typically, I pay about $70 a month for my electric; during Christmas, my bill is around $500," Dunn said.
And since he began the display decades ago, Dunn leaves his lights on all night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and in observance of Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7.
What keeps Dunn spreading holiday cheer, year after year?
"I'm just a Christmas lover," he said.
Christina Sheleheda is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.