Old Bridge,NJ-Each year, for the past 15 years, Thomas and Kris Apruzzi have decorated their home in Old Bridge Township for Christmas and each year, many came from miles around to see it. As time went on, the extent of the Apruzzis decorating began to draw families and children to see the display from the far reaches of New Jersey. Now, the township of Old Bridge is trying to force the Apruzzis to turn the lights off permanently after fielding complaints from the neighborhood Grinches, one of them being the town’s mayor himself.
As the popularity of the Apruzzi’s home decorations and light show increased, their home became a popular stop on the New Jersey Christmas tree decoration circuit. The Apruzzis use the light show to raise money for our nation’s veterans through their relationship with “Homes for Our Troops”, a charitable organization that helps veterans rebuild their lives. The charity builds homes tailored for severely wounded combat veterans and the Apruzzi family uses the display to raise money for the group.
In 2014, the family was selected to compete on ABC’s Great Christmas Light Fight television show. After their appearance on television, the light show and display became known nationwide and the amount of visitors continued to increase. The home was such a fan favorite, that ABC planned on featuring the Old Bridge home for their 2019 season of the Great Christmas Light Fight, but because of the huge crowd the display draws, the family declined the offer, out of respect for their neighbors.
One neighbor wasn’t so gracious and Apruzzi said he has been working on a plan to shut him down. The township received complaints about the annual attraction and on November 19th tried to crack down on the Apruzzis. First, the mayor proposed an ordinance that would ban parking on the streets immediately surrounding the Apruzzi home, but township council unanimously voted against restricting parking to stop the display, against the advisement of the mayor citing the display as a public safety concern.
Dozens of residents showed up at the November 19th township council meeting where the town agreed to allow the show to go on, but the Apruzzis were asked to meet with Mayor Owen Henry and the township’s chief of police a few days later.
The Mayor, it turns out, lives on the next street over from the Apruzzi home on Central Avenue, operating a construction business, Owen Henry Contracting, out of his home. Henry’s home is located just 200 feet south of the Apruzzi home. Henry has expressed his displeasure with the Apruzzi display in public on several occasions.
Going into the meeting scheduled for 5:30 pm on Monday, the Apruzzis thought they would simply be hammering out last minute details with Mayor Henry and the police chief, as the show is scheduled to begin on Saturday, December 1st. At the meeting last night, Mayor Henry informed the Apruzzis that they would be required to pay the police department $2,000 per night for police coverage throughout the entire event. Apruzzi felt the last minute request for money was a premeditated move against him by the mayor.
“After the township council meeting, we thought everything was going good,” Apruzzi said. “Then it all just changed when we met with the mayor and police chief and they told us they wanted money for police and transportation.”
In past years, the police department used auxiliary officers to maintain traffic and to provide public safety during the light show. This year, they would have to pay union negotiated wages to fully trained officers, just as if they were working a traffic detail for a multi-million dollar road project.
Mayor Henry also dropped a second financial bombshell on the Apruzzis in that meeting. The Apruzzis would be forced to shuttle visitors into the neighborhood from the local school parking lot, since the township made parking on the streets in their neighborhood illegal at last week’s council meeting. The cost for bussing would be approximately $1,000 per night. Although the township council agreed not to shut down the event, the mayor’s office imposed a financial burden that has effectively turned off the lights for good, unless the family could come up with $3,000 per night to pay the township.
Tom Apruzzi, so passionate about the light show and supporting the troops said he would fund the first few nights of the display out of pocket, but friends and family have set up a GoFundMe account to try to keep the event running throughout the holiday season. So far, they have raised just $235 out of their goal of $75,000 needed to run each weekend throughout the month of December.
“We’re being singled out, we’re the only Christmas display being shut down by the town,” Apruzzi said. “There are other large displays in town, but we’re the only one being targeted.” Apruzzi suspects that Henry’s neighborhood connection has something to do with it.
Residents reacted to the Mayor’s decision to shut down the lights using financial means against the Apruzzis drew criticism from many townspeople.
“[The] light show is beautiful and it is a shame the town has no spirit of the season,” Tracy Sussman said.
“Very disappointed in our township, this is not right , you guys are amazing! A lot of children will be sad this year, way to go Mayor,” said Doreen, an Old Bridge resident.
“We’ve been doing this for 15 years and now we see not only families coming out, but I’ve noticed people who were kids 15 years ago are now bringing their own kids to see it,” Apruzzi said. “It has become a Christmas tradition in Old Bridge.”
Others posted pictures of their children visiting the Apruzzi home. For now, the fate of the Apruzzi light show is up in the air. According to the Go Fund Me page, Tom Apruzzi said he can foot the bill personally for the first few days, it’s unlikely the family can afford the $75,000 fees imposed on them by Mayor Henry and the display could go dark before the holiday seasons begins. The Apruzzi light show can be seen at 18 Central Avenue in Old Bridge.
We have reached out to the township public business administrator, Himanshu R. Shah seeking comment from the township on this story and will update if necessary.