Re-PLUS in Louisville

Bad economy but a really good time

It started out a simple enough idea back in late May. Our normal bi-annual gathering of serious Christmas decorators was not meant to be in this challenging economy. Instead, the rule book was being thrown out the window and PlanetChristmas was going to sponsor a one day event in downtown Louisville. It was being called the 2009 retry of PlanetChristmas Lights Up Symposium (re-PLUS), targeted at the locals and focused on people getting together to share Christmas decorating experiences. If 50 people showed up, it was going to be deemed a success. The event was to be free but options were available for those wanting to spend money on a riverboat cruise and/or a night out at Fourth Street Live.

If you’ve been to a PLUS event before, you know it’s a grand production. There are several days of simultaneous activities with an elaborate schedule requiring a strict timeline to keep everything coordinated. A large scale PLUS requires over a year of planning by the steering committee with everyone working together until the event comes to a close, all the vendors are moved out and the final bill paid. It also means little sleep for me since I’m the ringmaster of the circus.

re-PLUS was designed to be very laid back, allowing time for people to socialize. My goal was to keep everything simple and stress free, especially for me.

Registration opened and more than 50 people signed up by the second day. I made a trip to Louisville and worked with the Hyatt to find an appropriate room for our event. We settled on an executive conference room that could easily hold 85 people and with minimal work be expanded to hold 100. Life was good and I lined up a wide range of presenters. Since my goal was not to stress about re-PLUS I left it on autopilot for six weeks while I focused on other projects.

By mid-July it was time to start doing the serious preparation for re-PLUS and I checked the registration numbers. 146. Gulp! I scanned the list hoping many were from spammers but I knew most of the attendees and finally realized re-PLUS was a bigger deal than I had anticipated. I immediately called the Hyatt to get more meeting space but only one small room was available so I booked it.

I arrived in Louisville the Wednesday before re-PLUS and registration was hovering about 185. I had worked out a plan with the presenters to be on-call to do their presentation twice if needed, once in the main room and again in the smaller meeting room. Everything was falling into place.

Friday morning after a cup of Starbucks started with a call from the Hyatt front desk saying people were trying to buy tickets through them for our Friday evening cruise on the Belle of Louisville but it was sold out. I hiked down to the riverboat office and found the all-you-can-eat buffet was sold out but there was plenty of room for re-PLUS attendees to be tourist, which was the original plan. Crisis averted.

Getting on the boat
Getting on the boat

I never got an exact count how many were on the riverboat cruise, but it was somewhere between 80-100. I knew a good time was in store because as I was leading a group from the hotel to the dock the steam calliope on the Belle of Louisville started playing Christmas music. As I walked around I was surrounded with Christmas decorators from across the United States and Canada. I had died and gone to heaven. The two hour cruise on the Ohio River was a true delight. The weather was perfect and everyone was in a great mood. Christmas was in the air and it was the last day of July.

Re-PLUS theater
Re-PLUS theater

When I got back to the hotel room after the cruise the registrations were still coming in. The count was now just over 200 and I was really getting worried knowing our main meeting room could only seat 100. I wasn’t expecting a 100% attendance but I was expecting a good size crowd.

I got up very early Saturday morning and made sure our meeting rooms were ready to go. The event was scheduled to start at 10:00 but I had suggested people show up a little early to register beginning at 9:30. I stuck my head out the meeting room door about 8:15 and people were starting to line up. By 9:00 I was catching flack from the Hyatt about all the people waiting around, though they were all having a good time. We started registration about 9:00 and opened the doors to the main meeting room a little after 9:30 as it became obvious there were more people than anticipated. I got with the Hyatt staff and they started bringing in more chairs and moving stuff around to squeeze in as many people as possible. At 10:00 I stepped on stage to officially start re-PLUS and it reminded me of church on Easter Sunday. There wasn’t an empty seat anywhere, people were sitting in the aisle ways and anywhere else they could squeeze in.

Re-PLUS presenter
Re-PLUS presenter

What a great day! Although it was crowded we soon found our rhythm and experienced great presentations. I had told the world there would be no door prizes from the vendors but several thousand dollars of PlanetChristmas items were given away, including 500 rubber ducks. We even had some vendors in attendance give stuff away on the fly.

The highlight of the day was watching Carson Williams telling the story about what life was like after a video of his Christmas lights dancing to the sound of TSO’s Wizards in Winter went viral on the Internet and ended up on a beer commercial. His 15 minutes of fame was a great ride and we enjoyed reliving it with him.
The event came to a close about 5:30 and it was tough getting everyone to leave. What was the final attendance count? 182. The night ended with people heading half a block from the hotel to Fourth Street Live.
Very special thank you’s need to go to the re-PLUS presenters. John DeCosmo of helped everyone through the trials and tribulations of fixing dark Christmas light strings. David Fred of guided us on creating drive through Christmas light parks. Val Piechur of helped us with wireframes. Darryl Brown of showed us the right way to build megatrees. Carrie Sansing, the queen of blowmolds taught us any blowmold can be brought back to life and look brand new again. Thanks to Carson Williams for sharing his story of life in the limelight. More thanks goes to Ken Wells of for showing us his auto-sequencing light computer, Melanie Fred for talking to the group about indoor decorating, Mark Halter of for demonstrating Lawn Lights and Paul Smith of for talking about what else but animated lighting.

An extra big thank you goes to the exclusive sponsor of our event:
18 vendors offered special discounts to the attendees and include:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, and Be sure and buy from them this Christmas season since they are supporting our community.

When’s the next event? Look for another article in this magazine for information as well as our calendar.
Thanks for attending. It was great and I look forward to seeing you again!


From the August 2009 edition of PlanetChristmas Magazine

by Chuck Smith


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