The city has renamed this empty stretch of Witherspoon Avenue “Christmas Tree Lane.” If another lot closes, they might have to consider a name change.
these independent stands in your town. You can’t. They don’t exist online, except for a few regional chains like Jimmy Coan’s Papa Noel lots. The fact that they suddenly appear in these strange places is meant to grab your attention. It’s a sales tactic that must work. Over 30 million Christmas trees are sold each year in America. At about $50 to $200 a pop, it’s become a billion-dollar industry. Those are quite likely just sales that are on the books because there’s something decidedly off-the-grid about tree slingers. You get the impression these guys probably have some bizarre resumes, if they have one at all. “He’s awesome. He’s a white guy, but he’s almost like a Native American hippy, but he doesn’t have long hair. He’s a country boy. He’s really cool. He just had this vision,” Fyffe expands on his admiration for the offbeat, entrepreneurial spirit of Jimmy Coan. Fyffe has nothing bad to say about selling Christmas trees. He loved it and speaks of Coan like a scrappy, outcast uncle who went his own way to make a name for himself. “It’s almost like being the ringleader of a circus.” That big top mentality might work for a free spirit in Texas, but the holiday circus of tree sales has a decidedly different impact on Tommy Thompson. A few days after our first talk, on a wet, cold Wednesday night on Christmas Tree Lane, I am reminded yet again that the hardest part about this business is making people happy.
“You don’t sell anywhere close to that now,” he says. The city has renamed this empty stretch of Witherspoon Avenue “Christmas Tree Lane.” Once there were about nine vendors fighting for holiday dollars, but these days it’s whittled down to just Tommy and Gary Jecker. If another lot closes, they might have to consider a name change. I ask Tommy if he and Jecker are rivals. He laughs a little and walks away a few steps, as if he needs to go count the wreathes or oil the chainsaw – anything to keep from talking about himself. “It’s a hard job,” he says with a high voice ideal for bluegrass singing. “After he retired, my dad offered to pay me not to sell trees for the holiday season.” I ask why. Tommy mumbles, wipes his nose, and finally manages to get some distance between us. Christmas tree lots are awkward by design. Consider it free advertising. They normally spring up where rent is cheap: vacant buildings across from the train tracks, offseason fruit markets directly under a flight path, seedy parking lots adjacent to the downtown freeway. Try looking up one of
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