“This is a purely financial restructuring. Our operations are sound. By increasing our financial flexibility, we’ll be able to focus on continuing to delight our customers,” Mark Salkovet, chairman of the board, said in a statement. loyal customers with a wide range of unique goods at reasonable prices.”
The news upset longtime shoppers who wistfully remember buying Fourth of July marshmallow roasting sticks and Christmas ornaments here. (One Twitter user joked, “I remember having to go when I was a kid, and it always smelled weird.”)
“It’s unbelievable,” said Tewksbury resident Loretta Bradley, who walked out of a Somerville store Friday with finds for this weekend’s Kentucky Derby party: two serving bowls imprinted with watermelon slices ($2.99 each) and a dishtowel emblazoned with the letter “P.” “. For her friend Pam ($1.99).
“Where else can you find things like this?” she said musingly.
Bonnie Sestito, another devotee of Christmas Tree Shops, came to surfing Friday after hearing about the bankruptcy, fearing it would close before she had the chance. Among her previous purchases? Bird seed, toiletries and snacks.
“Today, I’m just here to be,” Cecito said, while holding a glove designed to help clean houseplants, which she admittedly didn’t need. “It’s a really great place to shop.”
The Christmas Tree Shops franchise has a storied history in Massachusetts. In the 1950s, a couple opened a “Christmas Tree Gift Shop” in Port Yarmouth on Cape Cod from May to October, according to Good housekeeping. In the 1970s it passed to Chuck and Doreen Bilezikian, who expanded the store to include toys and summer staples, and over the next three decades opened 24 additional locations in New England and New York.
Their son, Greg Bilzikian, said his family got into retail at just the right time, when big retailers—including Walmart, Pier 1 Imports, and Crate and Barrel—were expanding rapidly. He added that the news of the possibility of bankruptcy is heartbreaking but not entirely surprising.
Christmas tree shops “were all we knew growing up”, said Bilzikian, who now runs Just Picked Gifts in Yarmouth. “It was very interesting for a lot of people. [The bankruptcy has] Raised feelings for different parts of the family now. But I understand. The world has changed. It’s evolving, and it’s hard to be a retail entrepreneur today.”
In 2003, Bed Bath and Beyond purchased the Christmas Tree Stores from the Bilezikians for $200 million and expanding the franchise to 20 states. In November 2020, it sold the company to Middleboro-based Handhil Holdings LLC for an undisclosed amount. (Just last month, Bed Bath and Beyond filed for bankruptcy, much to the dismay of loyal customers and coupons.)
Over the years, Christmas tree shops have been heralded as much for their architecture as their inventory. Many of the sites are designed to fit the charm of old Victorian and Colonial buildings. The site on Route 1 in Lynnfield, next to what was formerly the ship’s restaurant, has a lighthouse, despite being 10 miles from the ocean; Another roundabout at Sagamore Bridge in Cape Cod features an enormous windmill. And the store on Somerville’s Assembly Row boasts an impressive clock tower at the top, often as a resting place for pigeons.
But by Friday, this storefront saw dwindling customers and a few empty shelves.
Edgar Dworsky, Founder consumer worldHe said he’s noticed those signs of struggle when he’s stopped for the past few weeks. Gone are the usual displays of large pots, fresh flowers, and patio chairs in Somerville. (It is yet to be confirmed whether this storefront — or any others — will close in bankruptcy proceedings.)
“I knew something was wrong with the stocks a few days ago,” he added. “They didn’t have the breadth of merchandise that they usually have. They closed the left side of the store. They built a wall of shelves with toiletries and health and beauty items.”
The Christmas tree shops are now a relic of a fading business model, said an Arlington woman who declined to give her name. The COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing dominance of online shopping has put stress on retailers in the past three years. Similar large companies, such as JC Penney and Lord and Taylor, have filed for bankruptcy since 2020.
Even here at the Somerville store, prices are going up and inventory is faltering.
“$2.50 was the magic number here,” she added. “Now nothing is going that easy.”
However, despite the gradual price hike, several people on Friday told The Globe that the stores remain their favorite store.
Marjorie Goodwin of Brockton said she visits often to pick up “everything that catches her eye” — Easter-themed welcome mats and mini American flags among them. “I would be sad to see her go.”
Carrying huge cans of Victor Allen coffee cups, Elaine Ross of River had a more positive spin.
“It’s a little disappointing,” she said. “But maybe it will help me cut back on spending.”
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