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Man keeps family Christmas tree business alive in the next generation

The tradition of getting a tree for Christmas has kept Charlie Miller busy each holiday season for pretty much as long as he can remember. Miller and a brother-in-law have been running T&C Trees for the past couple of years, a familiar site w...

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Charlie Miller talks Tuesday night about the Christmas tree stand that he and his brother-in-law operate along Washington Street. T&C Trees has five types of Christmas trees, garland and wreaths. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg.

The tradition of getting a tree for Christmas has kept Charlie Miller busy each holiday season for pretty much as long as he can remember.

Miller and a brother-in-law have been running T&C Trees for the past couple of years, a familiar site with multiple types of Christmas trees for sale in the Town & Country Shopping Center parking lot at South Washington Street and 17th Avenue South.

"This is kind of like my winter job I guess," he said.

But the 19-year-old is just the latest worker in what truly is a family business that for decades has provided local residents with the smell of real pine this time of year.

Family tradition

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Miller keeps busy in the off-season, too. The Red River High School graduate worked construction jobs during the summer and will return to UND next semester, pursuing a degree in teaching and coaching or business.

But starting on the day after Thanksgiving, his job is to keep a family tradition alive. Miller's father and uncles operated the business before him, and his grandfather sold trees in the 1970s at his store, Miller's Grocery.

Business is typically slow on weekdays, he said, but the first weekend of December is typically the busiest time. Miller said they usually sell about 400 trees a year, depending on the weather -- last year's blizzards and cold temperatures kept many shoppers home.

Wintry weather is still important, though. Miller said business starts to pick up "when people start seeing the snow on the ground," which finally happened in Grand Forks on Tuesday.

During his first four days this year, he sold about 35 or 40 trees. He offers Fraser fir, balsam fir, Black Hills spruce, Scotch pine and white pine, all grown in Tomahawk, Wis.

Miller didn't have to think long when asked why he personally prefers Fraser firs. "They're really soft, and they tend to hold up pretty well," he said.

The balsam fir garland has been a hot seller so far -- Miller was down to 100 feet Tuesday afternoon, meaning he had already sold 400 feet of it. And he sells two sizes of wreaths, also made from balsam fir.

'A must-have'

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There's no flash or gimmick to draw customers. "We really don't have a whole lot of advertising," Miller said.

Still, the business has become a traditional stop for some. He said some families have been returning for the last 10 years to find that perfect Christmas tree.

T&C Trees is a business, but Miller said it's more for fun than making profits. The trees sell for pre-determined prices based on height, but it's not uncommon for customers who can't afford the full cost to still walk away with the tree they want at a bargain price.

He cut a deal with one couple Tuesday night, selling a nice-looking bushy tree for $20 -- well below the $8 or $9 per foot rate. "If that's all they have, whatever," he said. "Have a good Christmas."

Miller said he doesn't mind bargaining with people who couldn't afford to get a tree otherwise and said they usually are grateful for the deal.

In his opinion, everyone needs one to get in the holiday spirit. "It's just a must-have," he said. "You've got to have a Christmas tree for Christmas."

His family has always used real trees, shying away from the plastic ones that are reusable but don't offer the same natural aroma. "It kind of gets you ready for Christmas," he said.

Ezra Cordts and her husband, Clair, quickly found the right tree Tuesday night after looking at the different options. She said she prefers real to fake trees because "it just smells nicer," and it has become an annual tradition for the couple and their two kids.

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"We just always have had a real tree," she said.

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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