LOCKPORT – For John Fuerch, the business of selling Christmas trees is as much about creating holiday memories as it is about selling Douglas, concolor and canaan firs, as well as the other five varieties he grows at Treetop Acres on Lower Mountain Road.
“I like to keep it natural. I like to keep it friendly and easy to walk,” he said. “People are coming to us now and building traditions with their families.”
Fuerch, a former physical education teacher who has been retired for nine years, started selling trees 30 years ago after he and his wife decided against building a house in the country. They kept their house in Lewiston. Instead, he decided to farm the rural land.
“My parents always had vegetable gardens. My father was into roses and into horticulture as well,” he said. “I like to be outdoors, and this is something [that] worked together with all those things I like to do.”
Over the years, he has learned about farming and tree varieties by consulting with the Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York State Christmas Tree Association. The association’s website, www.pickyourownchristmastree.org/NYxmasw.php, offers a county-by-county listing of local farms and their offerings.
Fuerch, whose own website is www.treetopchristmastrees.com, now knows how to help match the right tree to the right person, considering the color preference – blue? or green? – and even smell.
“What they’ll mention is, ‘I want the tree that smells like citrus,’ ” he said. “They always go to concolor. They’re a very slow-growing tree. I only have those in the 6- to 6ø-foot range.”
I didn’t realize that certain kinds of Christmas trees have fallen out of fashion.
Years and years ago they used to take Scotch pine. They used to harvest them from the Adirondacks. I’m talking 30 years back. There’s hardly anyone in the industry that harvests pines. … They have a tendency to turn “off” in cold weather. Almost like a yellow look. A lot of times they’ll actually paint, which is something I’ll never do.
It is a good needle-retention tree. It’s not an “in” needle tree. It has long needles. People are into shorter needles.
What else is in now?
Most people, at this point, are actually looking for firs. Many people can grow Fraser fir, and some cannot. It’s a high-mountain tree that needs a lot of moisture and a lot of fertilizer. I’ve tried to go to trees that have drought-tolerant needle retention. Frasers are tough.
What about tree stands? What do you recommend for setting up a tree inside with water?
We have gotten into selling straight stands. It’s good for display. It’s a spike that goes in the bottom of the tree. A long, 4-inch, very firm spike. We have a drill that actually drills the tree bottom, drills the hole.
We’ve also said that it saves marriages, because of the ease of putting this tree up. This straight stand can almost be used in any setting. [It’s] a four-legged stand; the bowl goes right underneath the peg.
You got started in the tree business because you and your wife changed your minds about country living? And you liked to buy the kind of Christmas trees that you could plant after the holidays ended?
We’re both teachers. We had a daughter, and we wanted to physically walk around the neighborhood. I had this property for a year. I said, “I want to do something with it.” Over the years, I took balled and burlap trees. I started planting more and more and more. I did this for nine years. The last one I planted was in 1986, and that particular tree now is 50 feet tall.
I taught physical education in Lockport. My wife was elementary, first- and second-grade reading, math. My wife taught in Niagara Wheatfield and the Tuscarora Indian reservation as well.
What don’t people understand about Christmas trees?
This is a recyclable, renewable resource. People say, “We hate to see a fresh tree come down.” These trees are actually grown for that purpose. I have been planting 10 to 12 trees for every one I cut.
After Christmas, you set up your cut tree as a bird feeder?
I’ll take it outside. Some of my Doug firs, they won’t drop needles until about May. I’ll tie it to the tree, and I’ll put peanut butter on it. You can just put peanut butter on the limbs. That’s the first place birds go to run and hide.
Any funny customer stories?
One year, I had a 13-foot tree that this one fellow said, “I want to cut this tree.” I said, “I have a hand saw. You can cut it.” As they were watching, the tree fell on top of him. It was hilarious. We got a good laugh out of it.
You say a little girl’s reaction long ago has stayed with you all these years?
What comes back to me is, the girl was in the back of the truck. She had this look on her face. She was looking through the back of the glass. You could hear her: “Dad, we have a blue tree!” You could just see the joy on her face because of that. I remember I said, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
I have another one. I actually have a friend that comes up. His grandson came. He came out. We took a picture. He put as the caption on the picture, “When I grow up, I want to be like Mr. John and grow Christmas trees.” It doesn’t mean a lot to any-body else, but it means a lot to me.
We also have Santa Claus. There’s nothing like the looks on kids’ faces. You just see wide-eyed, big-eyed children. There’s nothing like it. It’s just great. For a person who wants an extra business, this is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It’s so much fun. People are so happy. People are lot happier this time of year, coming to get a Christmas tree. That’s something that brings joy to me as well. We have enjoyed that for so many years.
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