Wednesday Walk: Christmas Tree Closures
An American weekend, Gently used clothing deals, and a discount chain that used to be funky
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As is typical every Wednesday, I’m bring you a smattering of topics that I hope will make you a bit more curious about the world around you and give you something to think about later. I call these Wednesday Walks, as it’s the type of conversation we might have walking down a path in the woods. Shall we take a stroll?
Some American Things
On Sunday, I wrote about rethinking Memorial Day and other patently American holidays. We happened to be on the road in our RV for most of the weekend, which gave me even more time to think about American identity. Here are a few things that happened this weekend which seem very American for one reason or another:
We spent Friday night in the parking lot of a Cabela’s. The store was all decked out for Memorial Day, with hundreds (maybe thousands) of American flags lining the driveway. We had stayed at this location once before, but this time, I found a special RV lot out back which included a water tap and trash can. We were one of four RVs overnighting at Cabela’s that evening.
We drove past the capitols of New Jersey (Trenton) and Connecticut (Hartford). Both have similar golden domed capitol buildings.
On Saturday night, we slept in a church parking lot in Pennsylvania. Two neighbors seemed to be competing for longest and loudest fireworks displays as we were trying to sleep.
We visited Sesame Place (again). My son rode his first waterslides.
Sunday night, we stayed at a Harvest Host that was at a roadside amusement park. My kids enjoyed the arcade games. They lost at the claw machines, but won some tickets that were redeemed for lollipops, pins, and a foam airplane. We watched the sun go down over the go cart track as a video billboard advertised a gun show, while cars zipped by on the adjacent highway.
On the drive home, we stopped at the rest area in Danbury, Connecticut to flush our holding tanks. The state of Connecticut has free dump stations at two of their rest areas, and we make good use of them.
#NoNewClothes- Week 33
It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on my personal quest to not buy any new clothes this year. If you’ve missed the history of this project, it was inspired by a newsletter I wrote about Amory Sivertson, who did a similar challenge last year. I was able to make it for several months without buying a single article of clothing, although I did break down and buy a cool vintage Sears sweater at a thrift store about a month ago.
At that time, I made the rule for myself that any clothing purchases going forward needed to be unimpeachably good. The fit, the color, the style, and the price all had to be just right- I didn’t want to buy clothes (even used ones from thrift or vintage stores) simply for the sake of buying clothes.
Well, this past weekend, we found ourselves in a 2nd Avenue Thrift Store in Pennsylvania, which is part of the Savers/Value Village family of stores (why they operate under different names in different markets is beyond me).
They were running a Memorial Day sale where all clothing was 50% and we happened to be there right at store opening, which meant we had first dibs on everything on the rack.
I was immediately drawn to a Patagonia button up shirt that was made from organic cotton and manufactured in Portugal. It looked nice, was my size, and felt good. Plus the price on the tag was $5.49, meaning I paid the sale price of $2.74!
I couldn’t resist at that price, but I did find a few other shirts that were in my cart and eventually went back on the rack because they didn’t quite meet my standard. One was even another Patagonia shirt that I considered before realizing it wasn’t as nice.
For one thing, the colors just weren’t as bold on it as the first one. But I also noticed that even though the shirt was made with organic cotton too, it was manufactured in China. I haven’t done a deep enough dive into this to know for sure, but I suspect the Portuguese shirt is probably older and that the Chinese made shirt was more recent. The quality was noticeably lower on the one from China. (A quick look at Patagonia’s website shows similar shirts being sourced in Vietnam and Sri Lanka, so like any major brand these days, they’re sourcing from around the world. Patagonia does seem to take environmental causes seriously, which is a big plus)
I guess the moral of the story is that even when there’s a great deal being offered (50% the already affordable thrift store pricing), and there’s a name brand item that seems ethically sourced (organic cotton), it still doesn’t mean an item needs to be purchased. Yes, I purchased one shirt, but I resisted purchasing three. It’s a small victory, but an important one I think.
Cleaning Up the Christmas Tree
Earlier this month, retailer Christmas Tree Shops filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced the closure of ten stores nationwide.
Sadly, one of the stores slated for closure is the store in Sagamore, MA on Cape Cod. That particular location opened in the early 1980s and was built with a giant thatched roof and a big ol’ windmill.
The store sits at the base of the Sagamore Bridge, which is one of the two bridges that connect Cape Cod to the Mainland. I’ve often stared at its windmill while stuck in traffic waiting to cross the bridge after a holiday weekend, although I never made the time to stop inside and shop.
The Christmas Tree Shops actually originated on Cape Cod, starting as a Christmas themed souvenir shop in the 1940s in Yarmouth Port. The business spent the next half century growing throughout the region. The store closest to me when I first moved to Massachusetts was on Route 1 in Lynnfield (not far from Kowloon) and was themed to look like an old New England fishing village, complete with a lighthouse.
However, like Sagamore, this was also a location that I passed frequently but never went inside. I actually didn’t realize until I went to write this issue that the clipper ship portion of that old shopping center wasn’t a part of Christmas Tree Shops but was in fact a separate restaurant originally built in 1925! (A former worker has a nice remembrance of it)
The Ship was demolished a few years ago, replaced by a bland strip mall. At that time, the theming on the adjacent Christmas Tree Shops was also toned down.
In 2003, when I first moved to Massachusetts, the chain was acquired by Bed Bath & Beyond. At that time, they were a regional powerhouse, with 23 stores in 6 states. Under Bed Bath & Beyond’s ownership, the business would rapidly expand their footprint to the 82 stores in 20 states it now boasts, although most were generic big box stores in strip malls, not local architectural landmarks. Bed Bath & Beyond sold their stake in 2020.
I never experienced Christmas Tree Shops prior to Bed Bath & Beyond’s acquisition, and as such, I never quite understood it. They used to air local commercials with their theme song that included the tag line “Don’t you just love a bargain” and would interview shoppers about the deals they were finding.
To me, it always felt like an upscale dollar store. Most of the items for sale were cheap imports or closeouts from other places. They had a lot of seasonal items, but they weren’t really anything I ever wanted or felt were all that valuable. Perhaps it had always been this way, but I suspect it was more a symptom of ownership under Bed Bath & Beyond.
Maybe a part of the appeal was just that it was a local place. Readers of Boston.com sent in some of their remembrances of shopping at Christmas Tree Shops over the years, and it sounds like genuine affection for a place that was once quirky and local, before becoming corporatized and spreading all over.
It reminds me a bit of Marc’s, a discount and closeout chain that I grew up with in Ohio. These days, the store is more like a regular grocery store, but as a kid, it was a bit more of a grab bag. There were often strange oddities in the closeout section or toothpaste with English and French labels (meaning they were Canadian imports), all at severely discounted prices. I still make it a point to go back to Marc’s anytime I’m in Ohio, even if they now have 61 locations and feel a bit more corporate.
It’s unclear if the store closures at Christmas Tree Shops will be a way to tighten up the belt and will help lead them to prosperity, or if this is the first domino in a series to fall.
If they survive, I hope they get back to building funky stores and stocking funky merchandise. The world needs more New England fishing villages (with adjacent clipper ships) or oversized thatched roof cottages with windmills, not generic big boxes with weird acronyms.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below- I love hearing from you!
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Other Wednesday Walks
If you’ve missed past issues of this newsletter, they are available to read here.