Biz Beat

Christmas goes upside-down, thanks to Modesto company

Cunningham’s company puts together holiday displays at malls, including the Westfield San Francisco Centre, where a 50-foot Christmas tree hangs inverted from the dome.
Cunningham’s company puts together holiday displays at malls, including the Westfield San Francisco Centre, where a 50-foot Christmas tree hangs inverted from the dome. Courtesy of Tyler Cunningham

Today is Christmas, which the character Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” describes thusly: “Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved.”

Greg Cunningham’s year also revolves around Christmas. Cunningham owns JCD Atmospheric Studios in Modesto. He and his staff put on events for companies such as Facebook and Save Mart throughout the year. But Christmas is something special.

Cunningham’s company puts together holiday displays at malls that include Vintage Faire in Modesto, Fashion Fair in Fresno and Arden Fair in Sacramento, as well as shopping centers as far away as Portland, Ore., and Scottsdale, Ariz. And the Westfield San Francisco Centre, where a 50-foot Christmas tree hangs from the dome. Inverted.

Cunningham had done work for the center when it was the Emporium. “We used to hang giant wreaths,” he said. After the center was remodeled, its owners contacted Cunningham’s firm for this year’s design. He wanted to hang a tree, with an elaborate root system, from the dome – a nod to the store’s history. Someone at the center had the idea to invert the tree, and the project was underway.

After months of work, Cunningham said, he saw plans for the tree only a couple of weeks before installation. Riggers said it was the biggest single-point installation (meaning it hangs from one cable) in the United States.

The display has been incredibly popular, Cunningham said, with people sharing it widely on social media. “It’s wonderful when you see people stand back in wonder at what you’ve done.”

Cunningham is from Modesto. After working in visual merchandising in the Bay Area for 15 years, he decided to branch out on his own. Modesto has suited him and his 14 employees well, he said. The location is central to almost everything. He can own his own warehouse and his staff can afford to buy homes here.

They start installing displays in late October – “This year was the earliest I’ve ever seen in 35 years,” Cunningham said. And by the end of the first week in January, the displays will be down.

So, theoretically, Cunningham can take a breath. A short one: “We start confirming contracts in February.”


Elsewhere around the Business Beat:

There’s a new stop for travelers in Patterson.

A Flying J Travel Plaza recently held a grand opening at 2275 Sperry Ave. According to a news release, the plaza, along Interstate 5, is the 20th Flying J location in California, “and is expected to contribute $5.9 million annually in state and local tax revenues.”

“We’re thrilled that our new travel plaza will serve the Patterson community, as well as contribute to the local economy,” company President Ken Parent said in the release. “We hope local residents, and those traveling through the Stanislaus County area and along Interstate 5 and U.S. Highway 33 will enjoy the convenience and amenities of our new Flying J Travel Plaza.”

The new Flying J Travel Plaza offers a Wendy’s, Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, coffee and RV amenities.

For more information, go to www.pilotflyingj.com.

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