A former schoolteacher’s Christmas tree business has been brightening the season for more than 40 years
Without a doubt, Craig Steinhart is a patient man. Patience is a virtue required of anyone with the time and resources to start a Christmas tree business, as Steinhart would discover in 1971 when he launched Happy Holiday Christmas Trees with his younger brother, Conrad.
That’s because money doesn’t grow on his trees, at least not at first: His conifers only grow about a foot a year, and it takes eight to nine years for a Christmas tree to become ready for shipment and sale at his South Florida lots—assuming his inventory doesn’t wither from pest infestation, draught and the fluctuations of the market during its decade on the farm.
“Growing trees is pretty rough. It’s a very high-risk, medium-reward business,” says Steinhart, 70. “In the ’80s, we were on the brink of bankruptcy like everybody else. But it’s been a great life. I wouldn’t do anything different.”
Initially a part-time venture for Steinhart, a former schoolteacher and restaurateur, Happy Holiday became a year-round business in 1981, when the company opened its growing division in Michigan. Today, Steinhart only handles the retail operations, running approximately 10 seasonal locations from Royal Palm Beach to Miami, including one in Deerfield Beach near the Boca border.
Though rival natural-tree providers sprout up during the season, Steinhart says his main competitor is the dreaded artificial tree. “Environmentally ours are much better,” he says. “They’re naturally grown. You know what trees do for photosynthesis, and we have to follow all the EPA rules. Also they’re recycled and used as mulch. They’re regenerated. Artificial trees are oil-based; they just go into a landfill.”
For each tree that’s sold, Happy Holidays’ staff gives it a fresh cut and a bale, and prepares it for transport. The company’s concierge service, popular with corporate clients, includes delivery, setup and removal. But the majority of Steinhart’s customers are families that enjoy the yearly ritual.
“I would guess 75 percent of the customers bring their families,” Steinhart says. “We set up tents, we have music, our trees are individually displayed so they almost look like they’re growing there.
“I don’t want to say it’s recession-proof, but people want a Christmas tree. It connotes a lot.”