The annual lights that adorn downtown Lee’s Summit is a holiday tradition spanning nearly 25 years.
Jim Schultz, a retired business owner, with the help of chiropractor David Zak and Mary Stacy, the former director of Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street and others involved in civic affairs, spearheaded the effort to light up the downtown area beginning in 1988.
The first official holiday lighting of downtown would take place two, maybe three years later, Schultz said.
“We had a lot of empty buildings down here at the time,” said Schultz, owner of Decorative Lites and Decorations in Lee’s Summit for 25 years. Last year Schultz sold the business to Jeff Crotts of Lake Lotawana. “I started the business in 1988 and we started doing residential homes. Of course everybody thought I was stupid for starting a Christmas lighting business and even though I had friends who told me it was a good idea, they admitted later they thought it was a bad idea.”
Schultz’s idea, combined with Zak’s passion for downtown Lee’s Summit and the support of the then newly formed Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street organization, led to what is now a holiday tradition.
Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation are also involved on the city’s side.
“I look forward to it every year,” Zak, owner of Zak’s Chiropractic, said. He sits on the DLSMS committee that organizes the annual lighting. “They let me have that responsibility and it’s quite an honor to do that for Lee’s Summit. I’m glad I get to do that. My job is to order the lights, pay for the lights and figure out where the lights are going. Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation are the ones who install them (on city property).”
Zak added individual merchants in downtown Lee’s Summit have evolved over the years and what once was a yearly door-to-door sales pitch to get them to participate is now non-existent.
“What started off 20-something years ago was that there were less than 25 percent of the buildings that were lit,” he said. “We used to go door-to-door before the holiday season and ask different merchants and property owners if they would put lights on their buildings. One by one, one business at a time; we added a few more every year. Now we’ve gotten to the point that (on) Third St. all the buildings are lit and it’s all volunteer. Each business and property owners does their own thing. All I do is encourage that they participate.
“We try to let the new members and new businesses know what’s going on, but it’s gotten to where I don’t have to go door-to-door much lately because of the momentum of what is going on. Everybody is lighting up their buildings… It’s magic. The part that gets me excited is that we are creating memories for families and kids and we’ve become a part of some families’ tradition for the holidays. It’s come a long way.”
The lights, which were turned on Nov. 22 during the Mayor’s Tree Lighting celebration, will be displayed until Jan. 3, Zak said.
“Downtown has never looked better,” said Trisha Drape, executive director of DLSMS. “It has never looked better than this holiday season. It’s true. It just seems like there are more lights and there are more store lights. We are so thankful for Dr. Zak, Lee’s Summit Parks and Rec and Decorative Lites because they really take this on and take the ball and run with it.”
As lighting technology has emerged, the annual tradition has changed with it. Nearly 95 percent of the holiday lights in downtown Lee’s Summit are LED bulbs.
“When I started the business I had no idea what I was doing,” said Schultz, adding Doug Oberweather and Jim Shriber of Decorative Lites have been the business’s main installers over the past 15 or so years on the merchant side. “It was trial by fire. I didn’t have the vendors for wires or lights. I had one vendor. I didn’t have that advantage of getting on the internet; we had to make do with what we had. The lights are advanced enough now that we have LED bulbs and we’ve had them for about four years. Eventually they are going to take over the translucent lights.”
“All of the city buildings are LEDs,” added Zak. “The mini lights we use on some of the trees are incandescent, but we’re switching over to LEDs as appropriate. What we have out there now is just so beautiful and it’s going to continue to look better each year. There is more that we can light.”