Christmas 'yard art' grows despite recession

RALEIGH, N.C. —If you think inflatable snow globes are tacky, prepare to hold your well-mannered tongue.

This year, it's going to seem like "Tim the Toolman" Taylor has moved in next door.

Outdoor holiday decorations, widely known as "yard art" and beloved by the main character from sitcom "Home Improvement," are going even bigger this year.

Think more watts, more lights and more power.

They are, pardon the pun, one of the bright spots for retailers this holiday season.

Home Depot says that sales of holiday decor, which includes yard art, have gone up 217 percent since 2004.

"People love these because it isn't really labor-intensive and there's still that feeling where it's a little bit of outdoing your neighbor," said Haydn Chilcott, regional vice president for Home Depot, which has increased its selection by 30 percent.

After all, he added, "There's a little bit of Clark Griswold in everyone."

But yard decor has advanced greatly since "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

You're no longer limited to a Tigger — though this year he comes tinsel-lined — or Snoopy. Retailers are pushing complete scenes, such as a depiction of Santa's workshop — completely lit, of course.

The decorations don't come cheap.

Though smaller items can be had for $20 or $30, the larger items can hit $1,000 or more.

Even in these economic times, price does not seem to be an issue.

At the Holiday Light Store in Raleigh, N.C., sales are up 30 to 40 percent over the past three years.

"Our average customer is a fanatic," said Lin Honeycutt, who owns the shop with his wife, Cindy. "They don't care how much it costs.... The economy, as far as we're concerned, doesn't have any effect on them."

Anything that features animation is hot this year, Honeycutt said. This year's hot sellers include an elf who is watering a garden of candy canes, which appear to grow, and a Santa that seems to have gotten stuck in a chimney and is kicking his legs to get out ($255 and $220, respectively).

"I'd compare it with something like a NASCAR fan," he said. "He doesn't care that his ticket is $100 this year and his shirt is $25. That's his hobby, and he's going to enjoy it."

Others attribute the spike in sales to people spending more time at home and looking for ways to make their homes unique. They're looking to have fun during the holidays.

Bobby Moore decorates his Raleigh home and its surrounding two acres each year, drawing passers-by from miles around. It is, he admitted, "over the top." But he said it's something he knows area children look forward to every year.

Moore said he stopped counting the number of lights he uses when he hit 85,000. He makes a lot of his own pieces, including his smoke-breathing dinosaur, a UFO and a Ferris wheel.

"A lot of people take long vacations and that kind of stuff, but my vacation is here at Christmas," Moore said. "I do nothing the whole month of December but play here in the yard."

Moore has cut back on other expenditures like travel and sporting events in the past couple of years, but not Christmas. This year he made an animated Santa that has his backside facing the road, drops his pants and has "Happy Holidays" written on his underwear.

"The way I look at it is, it's Christmas, and I might not be here next Christmas. So let's have some fun with it this year, "he said.