PILOT MOUNTAIN — A local holiday attraction, put on by one family and drawing hundreds to the area each year, is coming to a “sad close.”
Larry and Rachel Charpiat moved to North Carolina in 2004 when they retired, bringing with them what would become a well-known local attraction — their annual Christmas light display.
A hobby started by Larry Charpiat, who set out to win a light contest in Florida, turned into a full-time job for the couple once they moved to Pilot Mountain.
Since 1966, the Charpiat’s have been involved in setting up and showcasing elaborate Christmas light displays.
Larry Charpiat, began when a man in Florida hired professionals for the holiday light contest. He felt as though that just “wasn’t right, I wanted to do it myself and beat him,” said Charpiat. That year, his first year, Charpiat won first place. “The man I was competing against quit the next year,” said Charpiat, with a sly grin.
Over the years, the Charpiat’s have incorporated their life into the display. One particular Disney display, included items from Disney World. “My wife was a security guard there,” he said, explaining how his wife had gotten most of the items from the tent sells they would have each year for employees. “They would sell items they no longer used at these sells.”
Other displays include a talking Christmas tree, Santa’s Enchanted Forest, Santa’s Workshop which feature Santa’s Elves made in 1972, “Snow Babies”, Mickey’s Playhouse among numerous others.
The display is open from 6-10 p.m. nightly, continuing through Jan. 1. After that, the display will go dark for good.
“I have put a lot of time in this, from clearing the land, to running wires underground. There are 42 outlets running through these woods,” stated Larry.
After much consideration, Larry and Rachel decided it was time to give it up. “During the holidays we can’t go anywhere or be with our family,” said Larry.
In one weekend the Charpiat’s host an average of 2,000 folks. The Stokes County Sheriff’s Office sends one to two deputies to help direct traffic off of NC Highway 268 East. “Since we started eleven years ago, the response has always been overwhelming.”
Rachel Charpiat explained last year more than 20,000 people signed the couple’s guest book, believed to be the biggest crowd since they have been open. “We expect more this year.”
With room to accommodate 250 vehicles, parking is limited. Only a portion of the parking lot is graveled. Limiting the space to 150 vehicles, when raining. “We have the biggest residential parking lot around,” laughed Larry Charpiat.
A golf cart is also available during weeknights to help those who may not be able to walk the grounds. “It’s not something we can do on the weekends though, simply because of the crowd.”
Rachel Charpiat mans the hot chocolate booth every night. Serving on average of 1,000 cups of cocoa on the weekends. “It’s something I’m going to miss” she said, “but we are tired.”
The display is provided free of charge. Donations are accepted to help with costs for up keep and the electrical bill. “If I knew how much money I had spent on this over the years I would probably fall over,” stated Larry Charpiat.
The couple also accepts donations of canned food items, through the season, given to the Pilot Mountain Outreach Center, benefiting those with need in the community.
Now, they hope to sell the entire display as a whole. If they can not sell the display all together, they will start selling it piece by piece. “If someone is interested in buying a part of it, we have them write down what they want, with their contact information.”
Reach Eva Winemiller at (336) 415-4739