Valerie Willis says her grandchildren “think Grammy works in a castle” decorated with thousands of holiday lights and stores filled with candy and toys.
And, they’re right.
For the past 22 years Willis has been director of retail operations at the , which brings with it a special duty: She’s in charge of the hotel’s Christmas decorations.
That’s an important assignment at the famed resort, where guests and residents from all over San Diego County come each year to see the lights, trees and decorations.
“It’s such a magical place at the holidays,” says Willis. This year, the hotel has more than 100,000 Christmas lights and the number grows each year.
Her sights always are focused on the future, six months to a year in advance.
“Around January, our thoughts turn to summer,” she says. “We’re already thinking about Easter bunnies.”
Nowhere is the planning more forward-thinking than for Christmas. Before the decorations come down for 2011, plans already are being made for 2012.
Each year, for instance, a theme is chosen. This year’s is “Silver Bells.” Next year’s – which has been selected but not yet revealed – will honor the hotel’s 125th anniversary.
It takes a crew of eight about three days to put up the giant tree in the lobby, put up the lights and deck the mezzanine, since the work is done in the off hours so as not to bother guests. Willis says the cost just to decorate the interior public areas, including the main lobby, is about $50,000.
Willis – a North Park resident who lived in Coronado for more than 20 years – oversees the 17 stores on site, 13 of which are owned and operated by the hotel.
She opened up her first of several stores in 1980 in Mission Hills. She sold it and opened another in La Mesa called the Country Peddler, which she moved to Coronado after six years.
Eventually she sold that and opened a store in the Hotel del called Ribbons and Roses. She then was recruited by the hotel for her current position.
“I do very much (like being in charge of decorating). This time of year is a wonderful time to be here. It’s very busy. It does take some of the joy out of decorating your own home for the holidays, though,” she says, laughing.
Willis is one of Coronado Patch's 12 People of Christmas, business people and celebrants whose work and hobbies give them a unique perspective on the holidays. Watch in the coming days as we talk to more people who offer their take on the holidays and advice for how to make it through this busy time.