A. Brown & Sons Nursery offers authentic, unique Christmas tree experience
By Ryan Peverly
Phillipsburg– Mike Brown animatedly talked about how his nursery recently lost an account with merchants in the Village of Arcanum. He said he’s been selling Christmas trees to merchants in the village to display outside their respective businesses for the last 15 years. But last holiday season, a few bad eggs — maybe some of you reading this — dismantled the trees branch by branch and took the lights, leaving a holiday mess for the village to pick up.
“Needless to say, they’re not buying trees this year,” said Brown as he drove an oversized pick-up truck from his Phillipsburg-area A. Brown & Sons Nursery, which he operates with his brothers Harry, Kenny and John, to a site where he grows acres and acres of Christmas trees each year.
The Brown family has operated this nursery for 65 years. Mike has been working on it for 50 years, since age 6, when he first started selling trees.
“They say families can’t work together. But we tolerate each other. We had good parents, parents that told us we’d hate each other for a few minutes but to get over it,” Brown said.
When Brown pulled the truck into the Christmas tree farm, he was quick to point out how beautiful the trees are. He isn’t lying. Rows and rows of trees stuck out like sore thumbs on this cool, mid-autumn day.
“You name it, we got it. Scotch Pine, White Pine, Austrian Pine, Canaan Fir, Fraser Fir, Douglas Fir, Concord Fir, two feet to twenty feet. We’re the largest Christmas tree lot in the state of Ohio. Nobody puts as many trees on one lot as we do,” said Brown, whose mouth races a mile a minute when you get him talking, and even when you don’t. But that’s Mike Brown, the crazy Christmas tree guy.
“I’m not crazy, but people know me for being that way at Christmas. They know at Christmastime I’m on something. Mostly Scotch Pine sap,” Brown said, only half-joking as he wiped a sticky
substance from his gloves onto his work pants.
Brown’s eccentricity could be a way to liven up a slow period, too. Winter isn’t the busiest or most profitable time for a nursery, but Brown’s jester-like personality has kept customers coming back in November and December to pick out, cut and load the nursery’s home-grown Christmas trees, even if that pesky artificial tree has put a noticeable dent in local businesses such as this.
“I don’t know why people prefer artificial trees. They’re not any fun. People are just lazy now. They got lazy. They’d rather have a pre-lit tree that’s already got a stand on it. People just don’t want to do any work. We’re a lazy society. But we’re holding our own,” Brown said, changing the subject as quickly as he started it.
“I won’t lie. We still sell as many Christmas trees as we did 10 years ago. We haven’t went down (in sales), but we also haven’t went up. We’ve leveled out. And it’s amazing we’ve leveled out, because we always lose some people. But we always gain new people that still value the appeal of a real tree.”
A. Brown & Sons has over 1,500 acres of nursery, 200 of which are dedicated to Christmas trees, although Brown admits they really only need about 60.
“We went from planting seven-thousand trees a year to about fifteen-hundred, two-thousand. We’ve got the biggest and best trees in the state of Ohio. But people don’t want them,” said Brown, who’s always ready to talk tangentially.
“They may go buy a real tree, but it might not be local. A lot of places sell trees from Michigan that were cut several weeks before they buy it. We don’t. We just started cutting (it’s mid-November), and we cut as the season goes on, all the way up to the 21st of December. My trees are so fresh you’ll have to slap them.”
They are fresh, no doubt about it. Brown cut off the end of a Douglas Fir and the smell from the wood was sweet and citrus-like (and that smell has stayed, nearly three weeks later). He does this for all his customers — cuts the end off — and suggests they drill a hole in the tree’s circular end and use it as an ornament to commemorate the year. A memento of sorts.
“If you had a baby, put their name and birthday on it, Christmas 2012. If you got married, put your anniversary date on it, Christmas 2012,” Brown said. “I cut these for people all the time, and they love it. I tell them if they save it for fifty years, it’s a free tree when they bring it back and show it. I have one woman who’s had one for forty-four years. She’s almost there.”
Those are the type of people Brown likes and wants as customers — people that buy once and come back each season.
“A lot of our customers are people who have been buying from us for years. It may be a generational thing. People come from Cincinnati, from Louisville. They won’t by any tree other than the types we grow. There’s not much loyalty like that anymore. People don’t support small businesses,” Brown said.
“When we planted Christmas trees twenty years ago things were great. But in the last five years we had to cut down. I love these people who think they’re going to get rich selling Christmas trees. We’re busy for two weekends and people see that and say they can plant them and sell them, too. Then they lose their butts. We’re an established business, an established nursery. We don’t rip people off. We’ll give you the best deal in town on a good tree.”
The prices are reasonable (the cheapest tree is $15), so if, as Brown said, you’re looking for an authentic, traditional way to celebrate Christmas, A. Brown & Sons’ Christmas tree lot at 7701 Salem Ave. in Clayton and on Rock Ridge Road in Preble County is open now. You can get real wreaths and roping there, too, handmade fresh daily.
“Try a live one. Get that experience. It’ll be great. They smell nice. And it’s a living thing. Give it some water. It’ll live,” Brown said. “I don’t understand why anyone would want an artificial tree from China in their house. It’s painted. There’s lead in it. You’re breathing that in. That’s not good for you. That’s not good for anyone.”
That’s Mike Brown, the crazy Christmas tree guy.