Sunday Conversation with … Jimmy Livaditis Christmas tree purveyor keeps up family tradition
By Ann Hardie
Many Atlantans have moved from turkey and on to trees, as in the ones you decorate. And who better to talk evergreen than Jimmy Livaditis, co-owner of Big John’s, Atlanta’s largest independent purveyor of Christmas trees. Livaditis’ father started the business in 1949 in the parking lot of his soft ice cream place. Today, Big John’s sells trees at 13 locations in metro Atlanta. The AJC recently caught up with Livaditis by telephone on his recent swing through tree farms in Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina.
Q: What are you doing on the road?
A: I am out here literally beating the fields to find the best trees. We have established growers that we have been dealing with for 40-plus years. Our upper hand is to do what our father did — break bread with these growers, build relationships and handpick trees.
Q: What are you looking for?
A: Some trees are like works of art — like sculptures — and some folks want a specimen. It is fun to find trees for them.
Q: How are trees like art?
A: A Christmas tree is like a blank canvas. Some people like to decorate theirs elaborately. Some trees are so pretty that you might not want to do much with it other than put on some lights.
Q: Are Christmas trees emotional purchases?
A: I was in Michigan looking at trees and I had one gentleman call me four times in one day — he wants at 10-foot blue spruce. His mom is not doing well and he wants a true blue shiner tree for a Christmas to remember. A lot of people come to one of our lots two or three times to pick out a tree. It’s a decision you live with for a whole year.
Q: How have Christmas trees fared in the economy?
A: We have definitely seen where people have downsized. People who bought 8-to-10 foot trees bought 6-to-8 foot ones. Slowly but surely, we are seeing people getting back to bigger sizes.
Q: Who is your competition?
A: In terms of sheer numbers, the big chains like Lowe’s smoke us. Today, it’s a buyer’s market so a lot of schools are selling trees to raise money. Quality, uniqueness and services are our business.
Q: Any tree tips for folks?
A: This is going to be a long season with Thanksgiving coming so early. You’ve got to keep your tree watered throughout the whole period. If you buy from us, you can select your tree and we will keep it until you are ready to put it up. Or you can keep your tree in a bucket of water shaded in the garage or basement. Go for decoratability!
Q: What about people with allergies?
A: People should try hosing the tree (and let it dry first!) off to get rid of the pollen. The Leyland Cyprus is the least aromatic.
Q: Do people ever come in looking for a Charlie Brown tree?
A: There are always a few a year. We always get a couple of those trees.
Q: What is your favorite tree?
A: The Nordmann Fir is a great “new” tree. I like what we call the number 16 Fraser Fir, an old fashioned tree that has layering to decorate and you can see depth in the tree. My favorite tree is the one that sells—and makes people happy.
The Sunday conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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