The parking lot of the Northfield firehouse has been the site of the Northfield Boy Scout Troop 72 Christmas tree sale since the mid 2000s-but the holiday tree tradition is deeply rooted.
"This is my last year. … I've been saying that for 53 years," laughed the former scoutmaster, 80-year-old John Fredericks, who provided his services to the annual fundraiser at a neighbor's request years ago.
This year's tree sale marks its 57th, beginning on the first Saturday of December. And although sales were slow at first, Fredericks and current Scoutmaster James Pullan are confident in their supply of 5- to 8-foot Douglas and Fraser firs at $35 and less.
"(They're) the best trees we ever had. I haven't seen a bad one yet," said Pullan on a recent sale night.
The lot of trees was cut directly from a tree farm in Bloomsburg, Pa., Fredericks said.
Driving down Burton Avenue near Birch Grove Park, the troop's flashing sign can't be missed. As cars pull in to the lot, one of the 21 scouts instantly greets their customers.
The boys proceed to ask potential buyers how big they want to go and begin presenting trees until satisfaction is met.
Before the tree is tied up on a car roof or tucked away in a trunk, the troop makes sure to give the trees a fresh cut.
"We don't let them deal with the chain saw or anything," Fredericks joked.
On a chilly school night, while most teen boys are home, Troop 72 is content where they are - outdoors - trying to sell a tree.
"It's fun," said First Class Scout Bryce Cotterell, 12, who was out selling for his second year. "You even get a tip sometimes if you are lucky."
The tree sale is the troop's only fundraiser, said Pullan, so they are depending on the stock to sell and sales to be profitable. Unfortunately, the prediction of if and when the trees will go is sometimes hard to tell.
"We usually sell out in 2½ weeks … (but) there's no telling," Fredericks said. "When they're gone, they're gone."
And although they face competition with large retailers, they know they can guarantee a more affordable choice and at the very least a helpful work staff.
"The scouts all come together and take turns," Pullan said of his troop that has to sign up in a rotation. "They want to get in line. … They enjoy doing it."
Boys are there to help every day, by 3:30 p.m. on weekdays, following school dismissal, and by 9:30 a.m. on weekends.
In addition to the enjoyment the group of 11- to 18-year-olds receives from participating in the sale, a greater lesson may come from the experience.
Pullan explained how many scouts transform from timid volunteers to friendly, knowledgeable salesmen.
"I think in a lot of ways, it teaches them leadership," he said.
Contact Caitlin Honan: