BAYONNE, NJ – A Bayonne landmark for more than half a century was demolished in March to make way for a new development.
Founded in 1948, Holiday Tree and Trim became a symbol of the holidays for many throughout Hudson County – and later in the early 1970s when it relocated to Broadway, the place seemed almost magical with its shingled roof and massive neon sign.
In front of the Bayonne City Council now is a resolution to direct the planning board to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if the property constitutes an area of redevelopment, ending what some see as a magical era of Bayonne history.
For many years, it was a Christmas tradition to visit their shop on Broadway, and the amazing displays in what was formerly an automobile show room – in particular the Toyland Train Park – a 34-foot animated display and more than 10,000 holiday offerings from tiny white lights or all out commercial grade yard displays.
The first floor, which served as the company’s primary showroom, was a former Studebaker dealership, but was transformed into a year-round holiday spirit that included nearly every imaginable holiday decoration plus a full line of collectable holiday miniature landscapes.
Frequently called a holiday superstore, the space always had elaborate window displays.
Inside the showroom, visitors would be mesmerized by Christmas villages built under the offering of artificial trees – which was their main product. Many of these villages, or their components, were also for sale, along with almost any other item needed for holiday decoration. This included wreaths and garlands on the second floor.
The company made more than 1700 artificial trees annually. They also made their own ornaments.
In 2005, the store was featured on Travel Channel’s “Made in America” TV show, hosted by John Ratzenberger, most well-known for the role of the Cliff the mailman on the classic TV sitcom Cheers.
This was hardly the first bit of notoriety the store got since it had become world-famous for development of a new generation of artificial trees. It was frequently featured on stations such as Discovery Channel, Fox News, News 12 New Jersey, Univsion, and other programs over the years.
Holiday Tree & Trim Company had humble roots, starting as a sideline by founder Philip Minchello in 1948 at his father’s fruit and vegetable stand at Avenue C and 22nd Street. Philip had fond memories of Christmas from his Hoboken upbringing during the Great Depression and saw the tree as a symbol of hope and cheer.
Originally, Philip had purchased trees at a discount from a manufacturer who could not get rid of them. But before selling them, Philip decided to make them better. This prompted some of his friends to say he would go broke putting so much into his trees. He invented a better grade of artificial tree, considered as real innovation as compared with the previous generation – including the illusive “short needle” tree, which he said failed in previous versions because they were not fireproof and the trees had to be assembled and disassembled every year.
Prior to this artificial trees, which came on the market in the 1940s, were made on machines that were invented to turn out bottle-cleaning brushes. “They looked like it, too, just like so many green bottle brushes,” he said.
The new generation of trees his company produced could not be distinguished from real trees unless someone got up very close.
Philip developed a tree that was made of PVC, and, therefore, fire resistant. The three original started varieties, Nova Scotia Spruce, Douglas Fir and Colorado Spruce, could be folded easily and stored after each holiday season.
The product line, which expanded to more than a dozen varieties, was so successful he received offers from other manufacturers, which he always refused, wanting the distinction of having the prestige of being the first company on the national scene to have this product.
Not only did Philip decide to make artificial trees that were as authentic as possible, but he vowed to use 100 percent American labor and material.
Phillip and his family overcame two fires, one that destroyed the block where his father’s stand had stood, and a 1967 electrical fire that destroyed a store he had set up for sale of his trees.
When Phillip passed away in 2000, his son Mitch took over, and decided to restore the iconic sign, although he changed it from its original red paint and crimson neon to a black and white background and bright multicolored neon lights – red and green were also incorporated in keeping with the holiday spirit.
The business was a Bayonne institution and a family company.
Nancy Minchello, who passed away last September at the age of 95, moved to Bayonne in 1963, where she began teaching English in Bayonne High School. She later became a partner. One of the key members of the business was a man named Donell Gross, who started as a floral shop owner, and later became a Christmas Tree designer for the company.
In another early innovation, Holiday Tree and Trim began online sales in 2001 when it could not sustain year-round sales at its brick-and-mortar location on Broadway – even though the store brought in customers throughout Hudson County. The online market increased the company’s sales by more than 500 percent.
By providing the company with a worldwide customer base, including with sales to England, Germany and Australia, “The internet ultimately saved the business,” Mitch said. Almost 10 years later, the company would go completely online leaving the building vacant.
Christmas was a year-round celebration, and market, for the company, although it offered other holiday decorations such as those for Halloween in its annex, and their large selection of Christmas lights became decorations for other occasions from birthday parties to weddings.
Even without a physical location, the business will live on at Christmastopia.com.