Most everyone who celebrates Christmas has fond memories of holiday time. Maybe it’s baking Christmas cookies or watching It’s a Wonderful Life on TV. Maybe it’s creating greeting cards or sipping eggnog by the fireplace.
But if you’re David Andora, the fond memory is that burning smell in the air as the janky Christmas tree lights began to smolder.
OK, that’s an exaggeration—but only a slight one. Americans fiftysomething or older will no doubt recall the ritual of unspooling the set of clunky Christmas lights, draping them around the tree, then worrying that the super-hot incandescent bulbs would light one of the ornaments on fire.
Perhaps you just had to be there to appreciate the hazards and charms of those days, but Andora has never forgotten. It’s why, earlier this year, he started a company called Tru-Tone, a culmination of years of entrepreneurial daydreaming. Tru-Tone offers a 2021 version of those post-war tree light sets that feature (to quote the website) “the big ol’ light bulbs we all remember.”
“All of our trees [when I was] growing up had these big bulbs, the C7s or the C9s in the ceramic finish—to me, that’s what says ‘Christmas,’” Andora told Adweek.
Granted, a quick trip to Amazon will show you any number of retro Christmas light sets, most of them imposters in which LEDs pose as filament bulbs. But Tru-Tone caters to the purist. Its 10-light string ($39.95) not only features colored incandescent glass bulbs, but a braided, green-and-red fabric-covered cord together with plugs and sockets that resemble their Bakelite forebears.
For consumers seeking a Leave It to Beaver Christmas, this is the set.
As for the nostalgic element of the burning smell (“and worrying at nighttime that the lights were going to cause the house to burn down,” Andora reminisced), Tru-Tone has thankfully done away with that part. These sets are all new and up to code, with 18-gauge wire and polarized plugs. (Tru-Tone sets also use parallel wiring, which means that one burned-out bulb won’t kill the whole string, as so often happened in the old days.)
As an artist and designer, Andora has no formal experience as a retailer or a marketer. But promoted Instagram posts—most notably by the “King of Retro” Charles Phoenix—didn’t hurt, and the popularity of his lights caught Andora by surprise. “The response,” he said, “has been borderline obsessive.” Andora and his boyfriend fill orders from their home in northern Michigan, and keeping up with demand has become a job on its own.
But where’s that demand coming from? Isn’t the Christmas of 2020 supposed to be the holiday that wasn’t? Well, yes and no.
While spending on gifts is expected to decline (from an average of $659 last year to $650 this year, per the National Retail Federation), Americans don’t appear to be skimping on home decorations. In fact, according to survey data from Ipsos, 16% of us actually plan to spend more on decking the halls this year. For the cohort aged 18 to 24, it’s 29%.
As to why Americans are spending more time and money on decorations, Andora ventures that nostalgia is an especially strong force this year.
As has been shown in categories like food and clothing, when Americans go through tough times, they often seek comfort in the familiar. Knitting and baking bread, for example, have been popular pandemic activities. Traditional tree lights, Andora said, are part of that.