By Natalie Simms
Forty years in business is certainly an accomplishment for any organization but especially for one that is only open about five weeks out of the year. When Christmas Tree City opens for its 40th season next Monday, Nov. 20, co-owners Guy and Jud Rutland will be at a new location. What hasn’t changed: The same quality of trees that has kept them in business since 1977.
Just over four decades ago, Guy and friend Bob “Luke” Lucas decided to take their idea of selling fresh, live Christmas trees and make it a reality. Their first tree lot was located on Shorter Avenue, where Big Lots is currently located.
“Since then, we have moved all over West Rome and then to East Rome. We’ve probably been at 10 to 15 different locations over the last 40 years,” says Jud, Guy’s son, who now helps run the business since Lucas passed away from cancer years ago.
For several years, Christmas Tree City was at the corner of Turner McCall Boulevard and First Street near where Hardee’s is now located. Then, they moved over to the Kmart parking lot on Hicks Drive.
“We stayed there a long time and would still like to be there but they (Kmart) closed,” says Jud. “So last year, we had to find a new spot and opened just down the road beside McDonald’s.”
And because of renovations at that property, Christmas Tree City is on the move again. This time, over by State Mutual Stadium to the gravel lot next door to Bella Roma Grill. “We’re real excited about this location and think it will be good for us.”
The Rutlands get their trees from a family grower in Cashiers, N.C., the same tree farm they’ve partnered with for the last 40 years.
“We only sell Frazier Firs because they stay fresh the longest,” says Jud. “We have had other trees before…Virginia’s Pine and White Pines but they dry out sooner than expected, so we don’t sell those anymore.
“Over the years, we’ve also invested in water pots as a way to keep water in them longer. They come in on a tractor-trailer and we store them in the shade at my father’s farm until we are ready to sell them. We keep them in water and wet saw dust. Then when ready, we make a fresh cut and put them in water until they are sold. We stand behind our trees and have always had good luck…we have good growers that give us good trees. We buy the best we can, it does cost more, but we think it’s worth it.”
Rutland says they typically sell about 600 trees each season, which is down from where sales were before the recession about 10 years ago when they averaged about 850 trees a year.
“We have lots of regular customers, about two-thirds of our customers return each year and another third is new business,” says Jud. “And that is one of the things I enjoy most, seeing everyone each year. This is a very cold and wet job…a lot of hard work, but we really do enjoy it and the people.”
Christmas Tree City has trees of varying sizes and height starting at 5 feet up to 12 feet. The most popular size is the 7- to 8-foot tree. They only carry a handful of 10- to 12-foot trees because demand is low. And while they usually sell out each year, they have sold leftovers to local rabbit farmers or for fish beds in lakes/ponds.
In addition to trees, the Rutlands also sell fresh wreaths custom made for their business by a crafter in Trion.
“We trim the bottom of the trees to fit into the stands and then we take them to her. She has a machine form that she uses to make the wreaths. They are a big seller for us,” he says.
To commemorate this year’s 40th anniversary, they will be giving away special ornaments with each tree purchase this year.
Christmas Tree City will be open on Braves Boulevard starting Monday, Nov. 20, until the trees are gone, usually the week before Christmas. Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Saturday and 12:30 to 8 p.m. on Sunday.