High Profile: Michael Dessart, Christmas House President

Michael Dessart
Michael Dessart

There’s a new “Father Christmas,” in town named Michael Dessart. A longtime executive and senior vice president at HBO, Dessart has begun a new endeavor to bring Long Islanders holiday cheer, as the president of Christmas House US.

Christmas House US is a Long Island-based company that owns and operates interactive Christmas experiences at malls across New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Launched just two years ago with its flagship location at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, the company’s rapid expansion has now placed its Christmas Houses in some of the nation’s largest retail shopping centers, like the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania and the Paramus Park Mall in New Jersey.Christmas House will also be offered in Westchester County, just a short trip from New York City at The Westchester in White Plains.

Bringing in Dessart is seen as a major move for Christmas House, says the company’s owner, Justin Schwartz, who touts Dessart’s experience in set-building and innovative technologies that create a once-in-a-lifetime attraction for people of all ages to embrace the holiday spirit.

Dessart’s mark has been felt immediately at Christmas House’s various locations, which now offer 10 rooms for guests to stop, take pictures and even have an indoor snowball fight.

“Having Michael join and lead our team as president has been infinitely valuable,” Schwartz says. “With more than a decade of experience as senior vice president of HBO, and numerous years prior helping businesses like ours grow, he brings Christmas House a wealth of knowledge, skills and talent that has facilitated our rapid expansion. The quality of our attractions has improved from excellent to world-class, which puts smiles on the faces of those we serve.”

With the tech and production savvy brought to Christmas House by Dessart, the interface with patrons has been much expanded. As expected, the exhibits display scenery that is classic and nostalgic of the Christmas season, like fireside Christmas trees, the North Pole and Santa’s workshop. However, thanks to Dessart, patrons can now experience the scenery from their favorite Christmas movies, like Elf and The Nightmare Before Christmas, as well as the Harry Potter films.

Christmas House has also revived the now-extinct experience of visiting a Blockbuster Video, with the Christmas section of the store in one room, for old-timers to return to their younger years by picking out their favorite holiday movie on VHS or DVD from the iconic blue and yellow shelving.

Each themed room is interactive, making visitiors feel as if they are actually in the holiday film. Whether it’s encountering Buddy the elf, Jack Skellington or the festive world of Hogwarts, Christmas House is far more than just colored lights and tinsel.

“Teaming with Justin and Christmas House has been a rewarding experience for me, moving from a big corporation to a rapidly expanding company,” Dessart says. “This is an exciting move. Justin’s creativity, combined with my experience, complement each other in a way that is rarely seen.

“I’ve worked with companies with ample resources as well as smaller businesses, and in my capacity at Christmas House, I understand that creativity is necessary on the customer experience side, while also operating the business from the ground up,” he continues. “From creating new products, like HBO streaming services, to creating an interactive customer experience at Christmas House, the many parallels between my previous career and this new role present a challenge, where I am able to use a background of strategic and operational planning to help us conquer.”

When asked about expectations this year, Dessart says that he expects 2022 to bring a record number of people to the Christmas village. Despite inflation and economic strain, the company has maintained its prices from last year to ensure that the holiday experience is affordable.

During a period where 51% of Americans expect to pay more for less this holiday, Dessart believes that the Christmas spirit is here, infectious and will make Christmas House Long Island a destination for those seeking to boost holiday cheer.

“At Christmas House, we aim to bring a festive holiday experience to all who come through our doors,” he says. “There’s nothing better than bringing smiles to the faces of parents and children alike. Our attraction has something for everyone, whether it be the Blockbuster room or the North Pole room where it is snowing.

“If you could imagine mini TV or movie sets, that’s the experience we are looking to share,” he says. “We have partnered with Hollywood and Broadway set designers and builders to bring an experience like no other to Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”

Christmas House has branded itself as the nation’s top fully indoor Christmas attraction. Doors opened on Friday, November 18, and the attractions will be operational through early January. With other locations across the continental Northeast opening just after Thanksgiving on Black Friday, the organization believes that the flow of participants will increase with the holiday shopping season.

“From a business perspective, the hope is that people will love this so much that we will continue to expand to additional markets in future holiday seasons,” Dessart says of his goals for the company. “As malls are trying to reimagine themselves, our experience fits right in with the strategy for many. We aren’t dependent on the weather, people can set a date and plan to come any time, and our guests will know they will be able to enjoy the experience at any point throughout the season.”

While Long Island is where the company cut its teeth and has received support from the hometown crowd, its expansion has been warmly welcomed in the new regions across the Northeast. Dessart says that this is encouraging and signals big things to come.

“Having been a resident of both Long Island and Westchester, and knowing both areas quite well, we have seen a very positive reception for both our Halloween experience, which we just concluded, and we are already seeing the excitement for the Christmas season and Christmas House,” he says.

While some may believe that the end is near for large-scale shopping centers, it is organizations like Christmas House, and people like Michael Dessart, that are expanding their horizons. If Dessart’s enthusiasm and determination are any indication, the future looks as bright as Rudolph’s nose.

To book your visit, preview the exhibits or find more information, visit christmashouselongisland.com

Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.

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