Chances are you've taken your children or grandchildren to see the Apple Electric Christmas light show. The dancing lights on Route 24 near Route 1 are a steadfast holiday tradition in the Cape Region.
But you probably aren't aware of the backstories – yes, there is more than one – that surround the annual display that has been delighting young and old for two decades.
Steve and Lisa Prestipino and their four sons, Dominic, Nicholas, Christian and Matthew, spread Christmas cheer this time of year, something they have been doing most of their lives. The Apple office becomes a Santa's toy workshop as they strive to reach a goal of collecting at least 1,000 toys each year to support the Sussex County Toys for Tots campaign.
It's not unusual to find a few Barbies on the counter or bikes covering the floor space.
You see, the Christmas display has an ulterior motive: attracting people to donate toys.
But we are getting ahead of the story. First, we have to go back about 20 years.
Backstory # 1: Lighting the night
When the Prestipinos moved their business to a house on Route 24, they needed a conditional-use permit from the county, which was approved.
The only problem, Steve says, is that they couldn't put up a large lighted sign to attract customers. That's when the idea of putting up Christmas lights was born, as a way to bring attention to their business. They also realized they should give something back to the community, so they collected donations for the Lewes Fire Department.
Eventually, the Prestipinos filed for commercial rezoning. Once it was approved, they were able to install their large, recognizable white and red Apple Electric sign. But by that time, the Christmas light display had become too popular to even consider stopping.
Backstory #2: Collecting toys and bikes
Steve says during the first few years as the light display grew, they realized they needed to support a children's Christmas project. They became the first Toys for Tots collection site in the county, with a goal of 1,000 toys right from the start. Little did they know that they would help collect tens of thousands of toys and thousands of bicycles over the coming years.
“At the time, no one was collecting for them,” Lisa said. “The drive took off, and the Marines were very excited.”
She said they have developed a close relationship with Marine Corps League volunteers, coordinators of the county drive.
Lisa has been named an honorary Marine Corps League member. “I'm really proud of that,” she says as she points to a framed certificate on the wall in the office.
Apple also collects bicycles for Toys for Tots. They made a commitment early on to match every bike donation. As donations began to reach 50 or more, they enlisted the help of relatives to keep their promise.
The Prestipinos said many special people help them – people like Tim Bamforth of Seashore Striders, who donates dozens of bikes each year.
“Whole families donate bikes – they make it a big deal,” Steve said.
Some bikes come disassembled, so Lisa says her sons have become proficient at assembling bicycles very quickly.
So far this year, they've collected 83 bicycles.
Backstory #3: Community gets involved
Lisa said the connections they have made with local families and couples over the years have been heartwarming. “We see many of the same people every year. They always give me a big hug,” Lisa said. “It's nice. It's become a community effort.”
Christian Newbold and his mother, Margo, have been donating bikes in memory of their father and husband for the past seven years, starting with four. “Now they are up to 30 bikes,” Lisa said.
Then there is an elderly couple who has a tradition each year of shopping and filling their mini-van with toys. “Sometimes they give me money and let me shop,” Lisa said.
The display runs from Thanksgiving Day to New Year's Day, but it's not unusual for the family to extend the lights an extra day to accommodate someone who has a visitor or family member who won't be in the area until after Jan. 1.
It's only a few extra dollars toward the electric bill. No problem, that's just the way the Prestipinos roll.
The owners say they quickly decided that using Prestipino was out of the question. “Too hard to spell,” Lisa said. “Apple was easy to spell and recognizable, and we were before the other Apple was popular.”
The couple started their business 28 years ago.
ABOUT APPLE'S LIGHTS
• Most of the work is done by the four sons on weekends starting in October.
• Music was added in 2004.
• Local artist Andrew Dera cuts out and paints the characters – including Charlie Brown and his gang, Rudolph’s crew and Frozen, which is new this year.
• The display also contains a creche.
• Animated Lighting in Kansas City programmed the display that runs from one SD card.