Flip Bracchi remembers when the blue spruce across the street from his Bridge Street bar was planted.
“I was part of the old South Side Revitalization Committee,” he said. “We were going to decorate it for Christmas every season. We did it that first year and that was an end of it.”
That was 25 years ago, when Bracchi was relatively new to running Herk’s Tavern, just across the intersection of Erie and Bridge Street from the tree. Monday night he switched on 700 LED lights wrapping the now very tall tree, rekindling a tradition that never really took off.
After so many unlit seasons, Bracchi said it took a tragedy to get him going. The lighting effort is dedicated to the memory of his wife Janette, who passed away of lung failure in March.
“She loved the holidays,” he said, “especially Christmas.”
For more than a decade, Bracchi helped a group of volunteers set up the Kristy Pollak Christmas Light Show on Lyon Street in Amsterdam’s north side. Last year he wrapped the spruce with some used lights, but after his wife’s passing, he wanted to do it right.
“He asked us to order him some LED lights,” said Dave Falso.
As main organizer of the Pollak light show, Falso knows his Christmas lights. He ordered 700 bulbs of the best lighting on the market.
“They’re C7 retrofits,” he said. “They’re super bright. All told it cost him $1,400.”
Falso and a few friends strung the lights for Bracchi. He wasn’t feeling up to it. In the midst of his wife’s illness and death, Bracchi himself was fighting lung cancer.
He’s progressing with the treatment, and Falso said lighting the tree really boosted his spirits.
“He’s strong as a bear,” Falso said. “He’ll be fine.”
The 700 bulbs are also meant to boost the spirits of the whole South Side. While the Revitalization Committee responsible for the tree faded out long ago, Bracchi said the area is actually doing really well.
“We have a bunch of restaurants down here, new sidewalks,” he said. “We’re doing well.”
The tree adds a previously lacking Christmas spirit to the place. It’s a nice bonus for the businesses, but not Bracchi’s main point.
For 14 years he and his wife helped set up and run the Pollak light display. They were friends of the Pollak family. When Kristy died of cancer, they felt it was only right to honor her memory by lighting a section of the city and raising money for the Make a Wish Foundation.
Christmas lights were a big part of their holiday seasons and Bracchi said lights are the perfect way to honor Janette’s life.
He even got a dedication plaque to sit by the tree so passersby get the significance of the lights.
“As long as I’m around we’ll light this every year,” he said. “After I’m dead I think my kids will keep it up.”