12/7/2013 7:00 AM
By Tabitha Goodling Central Pa. Correspondent
PORT ROYAL, Pa. — A Juniata County, Pa., Christmas tree farm is celebrating 50 years of business, and then bidding farewell.
McClure’s Evergreens, near Port Royal, Pa., will close up shop after Dec. 22.
The farm began in 1963 when the late Jim McClure began selling evergreens from a garage in the village of Old Port. McClure had bought 114 acres of land filled with trees in 1961. In the late 1970s, McClure bought a floral shop and operated the business from that location. Jim McClure and his wife, Sandy, sold the shop in 1984 and went back to business in the old garage in Old Port.
A decade later, the business outgrew the garage format, and a larger shop was established further up on the hill. That is where the business has existed ever since.
Last fall, McClure was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away Dec. 5, 2012, amidst the busy time of the seasonal business.
McClure’s three daughters have been helping with the business since they were teenagers. This final year of providing Christmas trees to the public is a bittersweet one. His daughters and their family members have other full-time jobs, and the work is just a bit too much.
Jim McClure was a devoted owner, his daughters said. He worked year-round mowing the grass, spraying necessary chemicals and getting the trees trimmed at the right time.
The daughters, Melanie Berrier, Mylene Zimmerman and Marian Mark, said they knew they had to continue through last season despite the loss of their father. They also knew they should try to get this final year in place — a historic year for McClure Evergreens.
“We really, really debated about having it this year,” Mark said, “But Dad made such a big fuss about making it to the 50th year. We just felt we really should.”
The business typically runs from Thanksgiving Day until Dec. 22 and employs 15 to 20 people, depending on the year.
Zimmerman, who works full-time in Harrisburg, takes a week’s vacation every year the week after Thanksgiving to work on her specialty — wreaths. She also coordinates door swags, fresh arrangements, headstone pieces and cemetery vases, among other items.
“Mylene comes in here early Thanksgiving morning to get ahead. She hasn’t had lunch with the family on Thanksgiving for more than 30 years!” Mark said.
The family does get together at the family cabin on the farm property for dinner in the evening, she noted.
Marketing has never been a problem for the business. Since 1963, word of mouth has spread beyond Juniata County. People from Maryland, New York and as far away as Florida make their way to McClure’s every year for the sake of tradition.
“For years, people would come here every year to get a tree or a wreath and we would know their face but not their names,” Zimmerman said.
A sign along Route 75 and again along Route 333, just yards from the shop remind folks in November and December that McClure’s is open for business.
The sisters have many fond memories of working together with the evergreen business, along with their cousin, Wendy Sweger, who began working at the shop seven years ago. On most occasions, the women, and their husbands and children, helped Jim McClure keep the business running during those busy hours. Visitor hours were from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
At McClure’s Evergreens, customers liked to choose their “perfect tree.” A McClure’s employee transferred that tree to a machine that shook the tree to dispose of dead needles, bird’s nests and other unwanted debris. They then placed the tree on a machine to drill the proper hole in the bottom. It was then wrapped in netting and sent on its way with the customer.
McClure’s trees include Fraser firs, Douglas firs and Concolor firs also called the citrus tree (Concolors have a citrus scent) and range in size from 4 to 12 feet.
Mark and Zimmerman said they could not guess how many trees are sold each year; they just know that people keep coming back, and it will be sad to say goodbye to yearly regulars when they take their last tree home from Port Royal this season.
Children who would come every year to help pick out a tree also would receive a coloring book and a candy cane. Now those children have grown and are bringing their own children, Mark said.
The women said they do not know what will happen to all of the trees dotting Herringbone Hill or the shop.
“I’m sure there will still be a presence of McClure’s Evergreens in Juniata County, but we’re just not sure how yet,” Zimmerman said.
Jim McClure also had a tree-stump grinding business, which will now be operated by his grandson, Jared Berrier.
Jim McClure had trained a few of his younger employees to spray and trim the trees, something the young men promised him they would continue to do after he passed away.
They promised him, because it was important to McClure — just like the importance of getting the business to the 50-year mark.
“He loved his Christmas trees,” Mark said.