Two buddies work out of San Jose’s Willow Glen to string lights for a fee
By Mary Gottschalk
Originally published by Silicon Valley Community Newspapers Dec. 15, 2011
Not everyone has a Clark Griswold in their family to outline their home in holiday lights, as Chevy Chase did so memorably with 25,000 light bulbs in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
For those without a talented guy like Griswold in the family, there’s Scott Basilotta and Mike Matsis, owners of Holiday Lights, headquartered in Willow Glen.
Friends since they met in the seventh grade in Hermitage, Pa., the duo works nonstop from mid-October through the first part of February.
They light rooflines, walkways, trees and bushes on the outside of homes, businesses, churches, hospitals and resorts. They sometimes even hang the lights on the inside trees if a client requests it.
“We start at 7 a.m. and finish at 1 a.m. some days,” says Matsis. “We work in the rain and in the wind. We don’t stop.”
Matsis, 28, has been in the business of hanging lights since the age of 16, eventually going into business in Las Vegas, where he lives the rest of the year.
Basilotta says he was finishing up his degree in business management at San Jose State University when Matsis convinced him to start hanging lights locally.
“It was cool. I was doing business management courses and I started a small business,” Basilotta says.
His first year, working alone, Basilotta concentrated on Santa Cruz, where he lives the rest of the year.
In 2007, Matsis decided to join forces with Basilotta, and the two have rented a place in Willow Glen each year since to serve as their headquarters and a place to catch a nap during the peak season.
This year, Rebecca Matsis, Mike’s mother, joined them to manage the office, make appointments and keep things running smoothly.
Matsis says their client list grows each year, from about 30 customers the first year to more than 200 this year.
“Some customers consider us family,” he says. “We see them over and over and they invite us in.”
Their services vary by client, but all want lights hung for the holidays and taken down after the first of the year.
Beyond that, if a light goes out, it just takes a call to get it fixed. They also offer free storage for lights when not in use, and they will provide lights, hooks and whatever else is necessary if a client wants.
Charges vary with each job, but Matsis says the minimum is $150 for a simple, one-story job up to the thousands for a big commercial job.
“We’re pushing LED lights for energy efficiency,” he says.
The biggest challenge the two face on a regular basis is a tall tree.
Most of the time, they work with ladders. However, they sometimes rent lifts.
Matsis recalls the difficulties of lighting the ice rink at Squaw Valley in the middle of a blizzard with black bears running by.
“If we can do a job, we do it. If we can’t, we will tell them,” he says.
Basilotta says they really enjoyed lighting the Veterans Hospital in San Francisco this year.
Since theirs is very much a seasonal business, they hope to do more lighting events at other times of the year. They’ve done a few summer weddings and receptions and envision expanding those services in the future.
Matsis and Basilotta are able to handle many of the jobs by themselves, but on a big project they will bring in others to help.
Emilie Highley has been a using Holiday Lights for her Willow Glen home since they first started offering the service.
“My husband has MS and can’t climb, so I called and Mike came out right away. He gave me a quote that was very fair, and they put my lights up,” she says.
Highly has their roofline outlined in lights and a large star hung at the top of the pitched porch roof, about 15 feet up.
“These young men are efficient, friendly and they’re careful,” she says. “I really want to support them and help them find more business.”
Rose Garden resident Lamar Lee has been using Holiday Lights for three years.
“I have a single-story Spanish-style home, and it’s hard to deal with the roof tiles,” Lee says. “They haven’t broken a single roof tile yet; they’ve been really good.”
Prior to connecting with Basilotta and Matsis, Lee did his own light hanging.
“It was a nightmare,” he says.
“This is the best decision I’ve made in the last couple of years. It’s one of those services you don’t think about getting, but they do a great job. They’re very professional and not only do they put it up, they take it down as well.”
Both Matsis and Basilotta worked on Thanksgiving this year, repairing to Basilotta’s parents’ home in Santa Cruz for a late turkey dinner.
On Christmas Eve, Matsis will fly home to his family in Las Vegas for a couple of days, but Basilotta will be on call.
“I have to be here to make sure all the lights are on for Santa Claus,” he says with a laugh.
“We’re spreading Christmas joy, and the kids are really cool. It’s nice to have a happy customer base.”
For more information, visit www.holidaylightsbayarea.com or call 408.384.9627.