SOMERSET, Wis. -- Three years ago, the latest sensation on the Apple River was just a wish on Santa’s list.
“Our family started brainstorming about what else we could do with our property. We have a beautiful piece of property that was only being used for three months out of the year. A Christmas light tour was one of the ideas that came into play. We contacted a lighting company out East and they asked us to send them drone video footage of the property. Three days later, they flew out here and loved it! They said we had the perfect infrastructure for a light tour, winding roads, lots of trees and electric power on all the campsites. The planning began and the rest is history!” explained Kelly Montpetit, spokesperson for Sam’s Christmas Village and Light Tour.
If her surname sounds familiar it should: The Montpetit family has owned and operated a number of businesses in Somerset including the Float Rite Park tubing operation and General Sam’s Bar & Grill on the Apple River.
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The Montpetits have constructed an elaborate lighting display, retail shopping experience and rental opportunity on the banks of the Apple River. Sam’s Christmas Village features more than 3 million Christmas lights, a 540-foot light tunnel, more than 35 animated light displays, 21 s’more cabins available for daily rental, and a European-style market featuring local food and merchandise vendors.
Starting the first week in October, it took a crew of seven people two months to hang the lights and set up the village. To operate the village and light tour on a given weekend takes about 20 employees. According to Montpetit, the plan is to add new attractions and displays each year.
In an effort to benefit the Somerset Community Food Pantry, customers who donate a nonperishable food item on the evenings of Dec. 17 and 18 will receive $3 off the price of admission.
Customers who donated toys to the Toys for Tots drive on the evenings of Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 11 received half off the price of admission. Following the first two nights, Sam’s had collected nearly 300 toys.
“Everyone loves a discounted rate and to be able to give something back to our community,” Montpetit said.
To accommodate folks who would rather view the display from the warmth of their vehicle or who might have accessibility issues, Sam’s allows drive-through only customers on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Wednesday through Sundays evenings are reserved for walk-through customers.
“We are very happy with the attendance so far. Walk-through nights on Friday and Saturday are the busiest," she said. "We had five different assisted living facilities visit with buses last Monday and Tuesday and they said the residents loved all the lights and music!"
Another reason to visit: the s’mores cabins.
“A little heated cabin to warm up in, your own private campfire with a s’mores kit and you get a special visit from Santa right to your doorstep. Saturdays are sold out until Dec. 28,” Montpetit said.
Sam’s can accommodate holiday shopping as well with its Christmas market open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening.
It is still early in the season, but according to Sheryl Amos, store manager at My Happy Place, Sam’s Christmas Village is making an impact on local holiday traffic.
“It hasn’t even been a week yet, but absolutely it’s bringing in business. Whether it’s dramatically more, it’s too early to tell that. We support each other. We have coupons here for $2 off admission at Sam’s. We’ve given away at least a couple hundred coupons,” Amos. said.
Not Just a Bar & Cafe night time server Cora Atkins has seen a difference.
“I have worked here for about three years and I would say it’s been at least a little bit busier this year.” Atkins said.
Somerset Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Becka Whitlock is encouraged but thinks it is a little too soon to evaluate Sam’s impact on local businesses.
“I think it's a fantastic idea and showcases Somerset's ability to create and host these types of family-friendly events and activities. While we've definitely had some people from other area communities contact the Somerset Chamber of Commerce and ask for information about the light tour, I don't know that we can yet speak to the economic impact Sam's Christmas Village has already or will have on other local businesses. A good rule of thumb is that family-friendly events and activities that draw visitors to Somerset are usually a good thing for our local economy,” Whitlock said.
Sam’s Christmas Village and Light Tour, 710 Spring St., runs Nov. 29 through Jan. 5. It’s open seven days a week, with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids from 4-10 years and free for kids 3 and under. For more information, visit at samschristmasvillage.com.
“Business has been great, but the exposure to first-time people has been fantastic for business and they’re asking about coming back next summer,” Montpetit said.