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Selling Christmas trees is all in the Cleroux family affair

With less than three weeks to go before Christmas, the Cleroux family is busy selling Christmas trees at the Parkdale Market.

With Christmas just a couple weeks away, the Cleroux family is working overtime.

The family sells Christmas trees. Somewhat famously, they've had the same stall at the Parkdale Market for 55 years. After so many years, buying a Christmas tree from them has become for many Ottawa families a part of their Christmas tradition.

Everyday in November and December, pere Manuel or one of his three grown children Jacob, Adam and Sara drive from their home in Bourget, Ontario to man the market stall from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.. The days can be long, but they don't seem to mind.

What's a little chill in the air compared to the warm glow of happy faces?

“It really is the happiest time of the year for us,” says daughter Sara, who juggles her job as a teacher to man the market stall. “It's hard work, for sure, but the customers are really happy. It's a fun thing for the family to do.”

This year, Cleroux estimates they'll sell 800 - 1,000 trees, balsam, spruce and Fraser Fir, ranging from $35 for a three-footer, to $200 for 10+ foot. That's up about 15% over 2021 prices.

“At my age, it's getting hard on my hands, knees and elbows,” Manuel adds. “But I wouldn't miss it for anything.”

A family of farmers, Manuel's parents Xavier and Jaqueline grew and sold fruits and vegetables at the Parkdale Market long before they, hoping to extend their selling season, added Christmas trees to the mix in 1967.

In the beginning, they sold trees they harvested from their cottage property. As business grew, the bought trees from local growers.

“I first learned the business working with my father,” Manuel remembers. “When I was 16, I started my own business, but barely made any money. There's a lot to learn.”

Selling Christmas trees can be a tricky business at the best of times, and the past few years haven't been the best for the Christmas tree industry. Most sellers buy their trees from farmers in Québec, B.C., Ontario or Nova Scotia. Many of the best growing areas have been decimated by tornados and violent weather. Many farms that survived the weather were wiped out by the COVID pandemic, when it became too difficult to find staff and supplies. Add record gas prices and costs for growing trees and you understand why Christmas trees more expensive than ever.

But the biggest challenge may be the one looming on the agricultural horizon. Growing Christmas trees is an aging business. Currently, not many young Canadians are choosing farming for a career. Consequently, most Christmas tree farmers are in their 70s. Like most rural industries, they have no one to pass the business on to once they retire. So, the business closes, and the industry shrinks.

But for now, the Christmas tree market is as busy as ever.

“We've been open for two weekends and we're already ahead on sales,” Manuel says. “I can't give you an exact figure but I think we'll sell everything we have this year, close to 1,000.”

Ottawa Senators players, federal politicians and senators are among the Cleroux's regular customers.

At age 57, Manuel is not quite ready to retire. However, when he does, the next generation who grew up working in the business, are more than ready to take over the business.

"My whole life is here every November and December” says Sara, 23. “I'm here because my grandfather did it, my dad does it and now I do it.”

“I love the business, the trees are like our babies, and we see the same customers every year,” she explains. “Everyone is smiling and happy and in the Christmas spirit when they're buying a tree.”

 

 

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