Competition ousts 20-year Christmas tree tradition in North Deering
PORTLAND — For the last 20 years, the Storey family has sold Christmas trees at Lib's Dairy Treats near the Northgate Shopping Center in North Deering.
But the neighborhood tradition started in the mid-1980s by the late Lloyd Storey, a well-known Westbrook firefighter and businessman, ends this year, a victim of rising costs and cold, hard business decisions.
Elliot Storey, Lloyd's son, said sales of more than 2,000 trees and wreaths a year at the triangle between Auburn Street and Washington Avenue doubled any other location the family operated, and carried the business through tough times.
"It erases all of the bad things that happen in the summer and puts us in the black," the 25-year-old said. "That became our premier location."
Storey credited the success not only to the highly visible location, but to a loyal customer base from Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland and Westbrook that was cultivated by his father, who died two years ago.
"He knew people," Storey said. "He knew who he would have to be gruff with and who he had to dazzle. Families would come for this great experience of picking up a tree and get great customer service."
Storey said he had assurances from the property owner following his father's death that the long-standing arrangement would continue. But rent was recently increased from $2,000 to $8,000, making it difficult to turn a profit. Storey decided to pay the increased rent, but could not meet additional terms of the lease.
Beyond the rent increase, Storey believes he lost the location for personal reasons. But property owner Brenda Pawloski said that was not necessarily the case.
Pawloski said her family used to sell Christmas trees at that location, but started renting it to the Storeys when her family began concentrating on wreaths and decorating the interiors of commercial buildings. Now that their commercial decorating business is no longer in operation, Pawloski said she wanted to revive her family's tradition.
"It's going to be me and my family (selling trees) on our property," she said. "We used to sell (trees) there quite some time ago and we decided this year we could take it up again."
Pawloski said she and her son, Matthew, who works during the summer at the ice cream store, will likely begin selling trees on Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving.
Starting that same day, Storey said his loyal customers will still be able to buy Christmas trees, which are shipped in from northern Maine, at several other locations, including the Storey Garden Center on Route 302 in Westbrook. Other locations include sites near the Howard Johnson's on Riverside Street in Portland, the Jetport Plaza in South Portland and at Maine Oxy in Auburn.
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org