Oh Christmas Tree
Toy Solider Christmas Trees
The crisp fragrance of pine fills the air. A long line of people, eager to buy their Christmas tree, winds around the Toy Soldier Christmas Trees parking lot on Robert E. Lee. People are bundled in colorful scarves and warm jackets. Others bustle around the lot scrutinizing the trees’ height, fullness and freshness.
Even with an atmosphere of good cheer, a few disagreements occur. An older gentleman, whose been steadfastly guarding a tree scolds a woman who claims she saw the tree first. She leaves with a huff to find another perfect tree. It’s clear picking a Christmas tree is serious business.
In 2016, Toy Soldier Christmas Trees operated one of the 3,300 Christmas tree farms still operating in the U.S. That’s down from about 17,500 from a decade earlier. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, last year 27.4 million trees were bought with a retail value of $2.04 billion. The average buyer spent $36.50 on a Christmas tree in 2008; in 2016, the figure was $74.70.
As a way to make a bit of extra money at the end of the year, New Orleanian Craig Collier, owner of Toy Soldier, started his business 48 years ago. It began with a small farm in Mississippi where he grew Scotch pine. Now he has multiple farms in North Carolina and works year round making sure his trees are fertilized, protected from insects and pruned to just the right shape. He employs on average 20 people, which includes the truckers who transport the trees and the employees who sell them. His son Ben, who owns and operates Ben’s Burger during the year, began working in the family business when he was 12.
“You know my father is just a good businessman, that’s for sure,” he says. “He saw an opportunity and made it work. I’m pretty sure he was the first to bring Frazer firs to Louisiana. He believes in selling the freshest trees possible and we are the last ones to bring trees to market. We don’t start selling until mid November.”
The family doesn’t own a lot, so the location of their retail business changes often.
“We’ve been on Reed Blvd., Carrollton and in Lakeview,” says Ben. “This year we have one on David Drive in Metairie and this one on Robert E. Lee. We also have a lot in Covington.”
Eric Kijko, originally from England, has been buying his family’s tree from Toy Soldier for decades. He says he looks for a tree with the right height and one that has fullness on the bottom.
“Their trees are fresh and the prices reasonable,” he says. “You know some places paint their trees green?”
Eight-year-old Ardeen is looking for a tree that will fit in a normal house.
“My grandmother told me it couldn’t be wider than my arms,” she says spreading her arms far apart.
For so many, like Alexandra Rivarde, who is shopping with her young children, buying the tree is a big part of their Christmas tradition.
“We’ve always bought a real tree. It’s important to us,” she said.
But Ardeen has zeroed in on the most important part of the Christmas tree.
“I want to see big presents under this tree, not any teeny tiny ones.”