We always get asked "How and when did your Christmas Tree business start?" Well....We aren't exactly sure.
We are descendants of Swedish and Norwegian immigrants and all of us are workaholics! My family was and still are very hard working, modest, and not obsessed with milestones or dates (except Christmas, of course!). What started as a family tradition evolved into a business over several generations.
What we do know:
My Great Grandfather had an automobile business in Northeast Wisconsin. Every Holiday season he would cut and sell some Christmas trees on his car lot. Prior to that, the stories are unverified and sketchy at best.
As the years went by, my Grandfather followed behind in the same tradition. When he turned 16, he left home and took a job in Chicago at a car lot. That same year, 1947, he rented his first tree lot in Chicago. Thus, started the tradition of bringing down Wild Balsam Fir from Northern Wisconsin to retail in Chicago with a station wagon and a homemade trailer. Initially the business consisted of brokering wild trees from Northern Wisconsin landowners. Over time, my Grandfather took the business to a whole new level: buying land in far Northern Wisconsin and relocating his entire family for 6 weeks a year to harvest their own Wild Balsam Fir. The stories of those days are amazing. Family members coming to help harvest in the wild forests, my Grandmother helping while attending to two small children, snow storms where they would lose the bulldozer in the forest and have to take a day to recover it. My Grandfather was the oldest of eight children - two brothers would subsequently also start retailing Christmas trees in Chicago while other siblings and their subsequent children helped assist with the sales as well. It was not only tradition, but a family affair.
As times changed in the late 1950's and early 1960's, the Christmas tree market went entirely to Scotch and Norway Pine. Land was purchased and planted closer to home in Northeastern Wisconsin. Wholesale Christmas tree production started for my family and many others in Central Wisconsin. My Grandfather was one of several Charter members of the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producer's Association.
Just like other industries, the Christmas Tree market evolved in the 1970's and beyond. Growers started to gradually introduce other types of trees to supplement Scotch and Norway Pine to include White Pine, Balsam Fir, Canaan Fir, Fraser Fir, and others. The "wild" look of prior years was no longer desirable. Consumers desired a higher quality Real Christmas Tree with a denser branching structure. Christmas tree production became a year round business with maintaining equipment, planting/transplanting seedlings, irrigating, mowing fields, shearing (shaping trees), tagging and planning production, harvesting, and shipping. My father was essential to the growing operation both during and out of high school both in Christmas tree production and retailing Christmas trees in Chicago.
As the years went by, my Grandfather retired from growing Christmas trees and retailing in Chicago. He spent his later years working with my Aunt and other family members on his local choose and cut operation in Northeast Wisconsin. My father purchased and continued both wholesale Christmas tree production and retailing in Chicago area. Two Uncles were also still operating their own retail Christmas tree sales businesses in Chicago as well.
Today, my Father still grows all of our trees while my husband and I handle more of the holiday greenery production and retail sales in Chicago. We have no idea how he did both portions of the business many years ago. Just like how it started, they just did it all because that's what they knew how to do and it was family tradition.
Times have changed - tree sales quantity is down yet quality is up. Competition is fierce both in terms the artificial tree market and real trees offered at the big boxes. Vacant land for "pop up" Christmas tree lots is being developed and in some areas local regulations are stifling opportunities. Despite the current challenges, this is a family tradition and not a single season goes by without reflecting on family members that have passed before us, the communities we brightened up each Holiday Season, and all the characters we have met along the way. Our children help where they can and may be the face of Chicago's Christmas trees in the future.
This website is many years overdue and we are so excited to be involved with teaching another generation all about real Christmas trees. Thank you for supporting our multi generational family business. Thank you for enjoying our Christmas trees in your living rooms and coming back year after year in each and every one of your family traditions. It is truly an honor to grow and retail with YOU in mind and no matter what the future holds, we will be proud to serve you!
-Jessica (Arneson) Markham-