Despite COVID, tree merchant is still moving the needle

  • Ledger photo by Andrew W. Griffin   Jon Wiggins, owner of Michigan-based Wiggins Tree Co., stands in his Christmas Village on the Sooner Mall parking lot in Norman.
  • Ledger photo by Andrew W. Griffin Jon Wiggins, owner of Michigan-based Wiggins Tree Co., says he knows a number of people who come up from southwest Oklahoma cities, like Chickasha, to pick out a balsam or Michigan Douglas fir at his space on the Sooner Mall parking lot in Norman.

NORMAN – For more than four decades, the Cadillac, Michigan-based Wiggins Family – owners of Wiggins Tree Company – have been providing Oklahoma residents with Christmas trees for their holiday enjoyment.

And even with COVID-19 still raging at the tail-end of 2020, Jon Wiggins and his family are at their usual spot, in a parking lot on the east side of the Sooner Mall, cognizant of the health and safety concerns many folks have, even when outside perusing their wide array of trees.

Some years back, Wiggins would ship trees to volunteer organizations and clubs in Lawton and at Fort Sill. But now there are fewer volunteers on hand, he said. That may also have something to do with fewer young people getting involved in the service organizations that were run by their parents and grandparents in years past.

Regardless, Wiggins says he has adjusted to the current climate, wearing masks and social distancing as customers come by to check out his fat firs and spruces. He knows a number of people who come up from southwest Oklahoma cities, like Chickasha, to pick out a balsam or Michigan Douglas fir.

Wiggins said his father started the Christmas tree business in 1936, wholesaling and retailing the evergreens from their farm, largely avoiding planting any of the trees themselves. That did not happen until 1978, just a few months after his father passed away.

In time, Wiggins’ children and grandchildren would get involved in the family Christmas tree business. This year, his son and son-in-law joined him in setting up the lot at Sooner Mall.

“It’s always been a family business,” Wiggins said, standing under the cool, clear blue skies over Norman.

Wiggins noted that his family business began coming to Oklahoma in the mid-1970s, specifically setting up in Oklahoma City. But because they also provided trees to the retailer TG&Y, they decided not to interfere with their client and found a welcoming environment in Norman.

More than just a “lot,” Wiggins has set up a play area for children called Christmas Village which also includes a blow-up Mickey Mouse, Santa Claus and more. A small train drives around the village, much to the joy of those who climb aboard. 

“The kids love it,” he said. “And so do the adults, the parents and grandparents.”

The Wiggins family is also known for their generosity and genuine Christmas spirit. The pater familias recalled a time when a family man who was down on his luck came by the Christmas tree lot on a cold December evening and told Wiggins he wanted to have some semblance of Christmas for his family. He was out of work and offered to trade some tools in exchange for a tree.

“When I went to put the tree in the back of his pickup, he saw the man’s wife lying on a cot in the bed of the pickup. This was truly a family in need,” Wiggins said.

One annual customer told Wiggins he was not getting a Christmas tree that year, and yet still gave Wiggins money for a tree for a needy family, to “pay it forward.”

When asked whether or not artificial tree sales were hurting his business, Wiggins responded that he has a customer in Texas he wholesales to and he said that as of the prior week, not a single artificial tree had sold.

“I see it as a reflection of the times we are in right now,” he said. “I think the pandemic has played into that. You know, when people are down, such as now, in the pandemic, I think people try to go back to a time in their life when things were simpler and more traditional, perhaps. They are looking for a real live Christmas tree.

In fact, last Christmas, the National Christmas Tree Association reported that the millennial generation – young people born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s – are behind a big uptick in Christmas tree sales, with 5.4 million more trees purchased in 2018, as compared to 2017.

Patricia Smith, of Norman, told Southwest Ledger that she and her family always look forward to December when the Wiggins family sets up shop.

Said Smith: “We have been purchasing from Wiggins Christmas Trees for more than 30 years and all of the trees we get are great. They are freshly cut and smell great!”

Wiggins said he and his family will have their lot open “until about December 21st or 22nd.” After that, he said, “we will pack up and head back to Michigan for Christmas.”