Holiday tradition on the West Side

Dairy Queen lot has been source of Christmas trees since the 1950s

For many along West Side Avenue in Jersey City, the first sign of Christmas is when the trees arrive at the Daily Queen parking lot (photos by Richard McCormack)
×
For many along West Side Avenue in Jersey City, the first sign of Christmas is when the trees arrive at the Daily Queen parking lot (photos by Richard McCormack)

Since the 1950s, the first real sign of the Christmas season could be found at the Dairy Queen parking lot on West Side Avenue.

Back in those days, Dairy Queens – which sell a variety of ice cream products – closed their doors during the coldest of winter months. As a result their parking lot was available for sales of Christmas Trees.

The lot still serves that purpose, although the Dairy Queen these days remains open all year round. This means you can get a snack while you are shopping for a tree.

Jimmy D’Elia works selling trees at the lot these days. His boss Brian Becker picked up the tradition in the 1970s.

While some people are opting for artificial trees these days, many still want a traditional Christmas, and they come to the lot in search of the perfect tree, like the scene from the classic holiday film, “Christmas Story.”

But tree sellers lately have some issues that people didn’t face in the 1950s or even the 1970s.

One of the most significant issues is the price. The cost of trees has been on the rise like everything else, but much more due to the 2008 economic downturn.

“Growers didn’t plant enough trees,” D’Elia said. “So there is a shortage. This means many tree sellers are forced to raise their prices. Some may even do so to take advantage of the shortage.

“We’re trying to maintain our prices here, even if there is a shortage,” he said.

The lot covers the full range of items that are typically found, such as wreathes and grave coverings.

“People come here because they like tradition,” D’Elia said. “There’s nothing like the smell of balsam. It says `Christmas’ right away.”

The trees come in all sizes, as tall as 14 feet for those with a high enough ceiling to accommodate them. Prices range from about $25 for the smallest trees to over $100 for large ones.

Becker took over the Dairy Queen in 1971 and inherited the Christmas tree business, serving up icons to both summer and winter customers.

In the past, his trees came from places as far away as North Carolina, Nova Scotia, and Massachusetts, or nearby Pennsylvania.

The lot is up and running by the time Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season.

“There’s nothing like the smell of balsam. It says `Christmas’ right away.” — Jimmy D’Elia

State officials claim that Christmas tree sales also face other issues, these days such as the misperception of infestation by pests such as the Lantern Fly.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture, which plays an important role in helping to promote the Christmas industry, has been trying to dispel fears of tree-destroying insects on pre-cut trees.

Trees grown in New Jersey account for nearly 70,000 Christmas trees each year, seventh in the nation for number of trees grown.

Last summer, the department quarantined farms in three counties in New Jersey in an effort to limit the spread of the insect and guarantee quality trees would be available for purchase.

Officials believe these efforts were successful in maintaining the tree stock and also keeping prices down for trees purchased during the Christmas season.

To comment on this story on-line, go to our website, www.hudsonreporter.com. Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com