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Slice of Life: Man has sold Christmas trees for three decades

ST. CHARLES – Gary Swan has sold a lot of Christmas trees – too many to count, considering he has sold them almost every year for three decades.

He was 15 when he started selling trees out of his car with his dad at a gas station in Aurora, and he’s only missed three years since. Now 52, Swan still dedicates himself year after year to selling Christmas trees alongside his family.

For the past two years, he has sold Swan’s Quality Christmas Trees out of a lot on Route 38 near Randall Road in St. Charles. But he’s been at locations throughout the Tri-Cities and spent many years selling trees from the corner of State and Fourth streets in Geneva. He also runs a lot in Naperville.

“I’ve built up a 30-year business here,” he said.

This year, it took five semi-trucks to haul Christmas trees from Mosinee, Wis., to his tree lots in the Fox Valley area. It’s a lot of hard work, Swan said, but his family is there to lend a hand.

His wife, Rinda, daughter, Bailey, nephew, Ben Garrison, and father-in-law, John Burton, help at the St. Charles lot. But many family members have a hand in a tree lot in one way or another, whether it’s the lot his brother runs on the corner of First Avenue and Route 64 or his cousin, Ronnie Swan, who runs a tree farm in Wisconsin. The reach of Christmas tree sales extends to his cousins, second cousins, siblings, in-laws and children.

“It’s a lot of work. A lot of people have been with me for years,” he said. “I hate to use the expression, but It kind of gets in your blood.”

Swan said he largely followed in his cousin’s footsteps. His cousin, Ronnie, sold Christmas trees in West Chicago in the 1970s, and Swan followed suit after Ronnie’s retirement.

Swan said he considers his lot a full-service Christmas tree lot, where trees are bailed and bottom limbs are cut off before the customer takes it home. Swan said they also give trees a fresh cut at the bottom to allow the tree to absorb more water. They also secure the tree to customers’ cars, supplying all the rope needed to tie the tree down.

He said Fraser firs are consistently the most popular Christmas trees, followed by Balsam firs as a close second.

“We try to keep a tree on the lot for all customers,” he said.

When he’s not selling Christmas trees, Swan works for his construction business, Swan Contractors & Developers out of Gilberts. But come next December, Swan knows what he’ll be doing.

“It does become a tradition,” he said. “It’s such a part of us now. I don’t know what it would be like to have a normal Christmas tree shopping experience.”

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