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Christmas tree hunting in Allston

Posted by Meena Ramakrishnan  December 9, 2011 04:01 PM

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If Allston residents detect the scent of fresh pines in the air, it is not a trick of the senses. Since 1963 the Model Hardware store parking lot on Harvard Avenue has been transforming itself into a small evergreen forest. 

Trees of all different sizes scatter the lot on upright aluminum stands and a sheet of pine needles covers the ground. Strings of red old-fashioned Christmas lights crisscross the lot overhead and in the back there are 10-foot tall piles of trees tied up waiting to be bought.

Open Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, Boston Christmas Trees is in the midst of its twenty-sixth year of providing fresh trees to Allston residents. Chris and Lenny Rotman have been working every season since 1972 and many of the other workers have been selling trees in Allston for more than 10 years.

Chris said it has been a great year for Christmas tree sales. 

"I've been here since 6:15 because we got a shipment in today and I will be here until 10 tonight," he said the other morning. "It's great work, the trees just get a little heavy after a while." 

Throughout the season, the lot gets about four shipments of Balsam and Fraser trees between 3 and 12 feet from Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Prices are generally between $25 and $40 for average-sized trees. Still, the small business atmosphere of the lot is what seems to make people smile.

"I think I have an early Christmas present for you," one of the workers tells a little girl before he leaves to get her a Christmas coloring book.

These guys know their stuff. They direct customers to sections with different sizes and species. They know which trees suffer more needle loss, which trees are the most fragrant and how fast they will open in time for Christmas.

A few people who come to Boston Christmas Trees are buying real trees for the first time in the city.

"Well it's my first time buying a tree without my family but the smell of fresh pine makes this season special and I think I know pretty much how to care for it so I figured I'd buy a real one," said Scott Verbeek, an international student living in Allston.

The decision to buy real trees over fake is an age-old question for city-dwellers. Some find artificial trees easier to maintain or safer bets against fire hazard, while others are loyal to the real tree tradition.

"I was offered my grandmother's tree this year. It would have saved me some money but I was like 'nope' I'm buying a real one," Emily Greenhalgh, of Allston, said. "It's about the tradition, you know."

Tradition is important to many Allston residents for similar reasons. Robbie Cocchiarella, who lives up the street from Boston Christmas Trees, said he may not have the time to buy a Christmas tree this year but he has filled his apartment with wreaths and other decorations.

"Christmas is about being with friends and the people who mean the most to you. Whether or not I have the time to decorate a tree, I'm definitely decorating my apartment to celebrate this special time of year." 

Wreaths at Boston Christmas Trees range from $12 to $20 depending on size.

For Dan Brainard, who has worked at Boston Christmas tree for more than a decade, being part of people's holiday makes for a fulfilling work environment.

"The experience is awesome," Brainard said . "Everyone who comes here pretty much always leaves happy. It's just a really great time."

Today, Chris and Lenny are still carrying trees to people's cars and sawing old branches off the bottoms. After they have finished with one tree they come back to the lot and call out a familiar question they have asked over the years.

"Does anyone need any help with a tree?"

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