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Warm weather boosts sales at Christmas tree farm

December 20, 1998

Tree farmBy SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




CLEAR SPRING - Samantha Staley, 2, of Clear Spring, thought she was choosing the family Christmas Tree Sunday.

She was wrong.

Her parents, Lisa and Wade Staley, had selected a 9-foot-tall Douglas fir tree a week before and were returning Sunday to take it home.

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First, though, they let Samantha wander around the Montpelier Christmas Tree Farm, as she unknowingly led them away from the pre-selected tree and pointed at various small trees she admired.

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"Look at all the trees!" she shouted.

It was her first trip to the farm, which is operated by Charlie Downs, 50. The farm is on Broadfording Road, just north of Clear Spring.

The family has been buying trees there for five or six years, Wade Staley said.

After they let Samantha wander and search for about 15 minutes, her dad subtly led her through the field towards the tree they had selected.

"Do you like this one?" her father asked.

"No, that's too big," she replied.

Downs stepped in then and saved the day by suggesting they look at the tag on the tree with the family name on it.

"I bet Santa Claus tagged that one for Mommy and Daddy," Downs said.

After thinking about it for a minute, Samantha agreed they could get that tree, since Santa had chosen it and would put presents under it.

She stared, transfixed, as Downs cut down the tree with a chainsaw. She then held onto a few tree needles to help him carry the tree to the family's truck.

While the Staleys were finding their tree, members of the Byrne family picked up the tree they had selected earlier in the month.

They have been coming to the farm for several years, said Francis Byrne of Clear Spring. "It is nice to get a fresh tree, not one that was cut down three months ago," he said.

The final weekend before Christmas is usually pretty slow compared to the other weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Downs said.

During the week, Downs is a pharmacist at Washington County Hospital. His Christmas tree farm began when he planted 2,000 trees in 1980. He started selling those trees in 1985.

That first year was slow, but due to word-of-mouth and repeat customers, sales have increased over the years, he said.

In recent years, he has planted and sold about 2,000 trees annually, he said.

While there are slow years and bad years, this has been his best, he said. He attributes increased sales to the warm weather.

Fewer people will drive to the farm to buy a tree when the weather is bad, he said. With this year's warm weather, there have even been people wearing shorts as they choose their trees, Downs said.

Despite it being such a successful year Downs plans to scale back the operation next year, citing his age. He has not decided, though, just how far he will cut back.

It is more of a hobby than a business, he said. With all the hours he puts into the farm he would barely make minimum wage, he said.

"It is a labor of love," he said.

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