“I just like seeing the little kids run out, they get so excited about selecting a Christmas tree,” Rutland said.
Rutland started bringing Christmas trees to Rome back in 1977, originally in a vacant lot across from an old drive-in theater on Shorter Avenue. He’s bounced around a lot of different locations through the years. “Everywhere we’ve been we sold the lot for them, I reckon,” Rutland said. “We’d stay there four or five years then have to move. We tried to buy a couple of lots.”
Mike Barger, former general manager of the East Rome Kmart, hosted Rutland for close to a dozen years.
“It was a lot of extra traffic in on the parking lot, and it was a big help,” Barger said. “I found him up under the bridge at the end of one Christmas season and I said, ‘You need to come down to Kmart.’” Barger was referring to the then vacant lot where Garner & Glover Insurance is currently, at 135 E. Eighth Ave.
“It was the best move we ever made,” Rutland said. “He asked us to come about three years before we moved over there.”
Rutland got started when a vendor at the old Atlanta Farmer’s Market suggested that he give Christmas tree sales a try. At the time, Rutland was a teacher and coach at Rockmart High, and after giving the idea some thought, he and an old college roommate, Bob Lucas, also a teacher in Rockmart, decided to go into the business together to make a little holiday money of their own.
The first several years they went to the farmers market in Atlanta to get their trees, then went on a tour of Christmas tree farms which led him to Cashiers, North Carolina, and the Fowler Christmas Tree Farm. Rutland has been getting his trees, all fraser firs, from Cashiers ever since.
Rutland said he established a strong relationship with Marvin Fowler.
“He’d come down to my house and go deer hunting and turkey hunting, and we’d go up there in the summer and catch a few trout,” Rutland said.
Fowler has basically turned over operation of the business to his son Carlton Fowler. They supply Christmas trees to vendors like Rutland all over the Southeast.
Rutland said the fraser fir is the best Christmas tree grown anywhere.
“It holds up better than any tree, one lady showed us a picture of hers decorated with Easter eggs, it stayed up that long,” Rutland said. The key to survival for a cut tree like Rutland sells is not putting them up to a Southern exposure window or close to a heating vent. “Some folks will do that and they’ll deteriorate fast,” Rutland said.
His trees are all cut, because the fraser fir won’t grow well at lower elevations.
“This year we had more demand for large trees than we’ve ever had, and we sold them out as fast as we could get them up,” Rutland said. There is a shortage of Christmas trees this season, which did bump the prices up a little. Rutland said that during the recession of the last decade a lot of Christmas tree farmers left the business.
Artificial Christmas trees have impacted his business some over the years, but not to a great extent.
“People that will get a fake tree, they’ll come back after that fake tree gets bent up or worn out,” Rutland said.
The Fowler family up in North Carolina does most of the tree shaping themselves. Rutland said the fraser fir grows about a foot each year and needs to be shaped on a regular basis.
Like Fowler, Guy Rutland turned over day-to-day management of the tree lot to his son Judd this year. Judd said he was two years old when his dad started selling Christmas trees.
“It’s all I’ve ever known,” Judd said. Judd has already introduced his own son, Sam, to the business, hopefully nurturing a third generation of the family to helping make Christmas a little merrier.
Judd Rutland said the move to the site in front of the baseball stadium has helped produce a lot of new customers this holiday season.
“Most of her people have been with us a while. It’s nice to see our old customers come in and get to the see them again, but this year we’re seeing a lot of people we’ve never seen before,” the younger Rutland said.