Newsflash: The HoneyBaked Ham Company doesn’t just sell hams, and the Christmas Tree Shops doesn't just sell Christmas trees. If you have a hankering to buy a turkey sandwich at the former and a bottle of sunscreen at the latter, well, you’re in luck! Yes, it’s a crazy, mixed-up world we’re living in these days, but that’s the cold, hard reality of it. (Interestingly enough, you can buy a real ham at the HoneyBaked Ham Company but you cannot buy a real Christmas tree at the Christmas Tree Shops.)
Since its original founding as The Christmas Tree Gift Shop in the 1950s in the sleepy Cape Cod town of Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, Christmas Tree Shops has grown from one modest location to more than 70 outposts in 21 states nationwide. So since it’s that time of year again, why not get into the holiday spirit with some facts about everybody’s favorite Christmas-themed (but not really) liquidation outlet. Plus: We’re going to give you seven facts for the price of five. “Don’t you just love a bargain?”
1. THERE’S A SIMPLE REASON WHY IT’S "SHOPS" AND NOT "SHOP."
The Christmas Tree Gift Shop (as it was originally called) was founded by couple Mark and Alice Matthews in the 1950s in a barn in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. The business was purchased in 1970 by Chuck and Doreen Bilezikian, who converted the original store into three, separate spaces: The Barn Shop, The Front Shop, and The Back Shop. Which is how "Shop" turned into "Shops." See? It makes perfect sense!
2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY JUST ABOUT CHRISTMAS.
For the novice shopper, "Christmas Tree Shops" brings to mind thoughts of wreaths and jingle bells, not suntan lotion and lawn chairs. In the 1950s, before the Bilezikians bought the store, one would have been right. Originally The Christmas Tree Gift Shop was exclusively about Christmas. It was only open May through October and sold strictly Christmas gifts and ornaments to summer tourists.
3. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT CHRISTMAS ANYMORE.
Once the Bilezikians purchased the store, they had far greater aspirations than just selling stocking stuffers and tree ornaments. They turned the store into a year-round liquidation outlet selling everything from home decor to beach umbrellas to a 26-piece flashlight set for $3.99. Of course you could still get your fill of stocking stuffers. Immense popularity and success forced the Bilezikians to rapidly expand. They built their first Shops outside of Cape Cod in 1981 and by the time they sold their empire to Bed Bath & Beyond in 2003, they had amassed 23 locations.
4. THEY HAD A BRANDING PROBLEM.
In 2003, Bed Bath & Beyond spent $200 million to purchase Christmas Tree Shops and began a rapid expansion of the bargain chain. But BB&B quickly realized that they had an image problem: They determined that customers seemed to associate the Christmas Tree Shops exclusively with, wait for it, Christmas! In an attempt to make it clear to would-be customers that this was far from the case, in 2013 they began renaming their new stores Christmas Tree Shops andThat!, or, just andThat!
5. THE OWNERS LIVED RIGHT ABOVE THE ORIGINAL SHOP.
When then Bilezikians first bought the store, they actually lived in an apartment above it! “On Friday nights—because everything was so geared to the weekend—we would put the kids in pajamas, go downstairs, and stock the store,” Doreen recalled. "We grew up in it,” the Bilezikians' eldest son, Greg, told the Massachusetts Institute of Business. “That was our life. I remember stocking shelves in our pajamas.”
6. CHUCK BILEZIKIAN HAD A GREAT MEMORY.
Chuck was known for being very close to his employees and for remembering intimate details about all of them, even after the Shops expanded and his staff grew significantly. “He would walk over to an employee and say, ‘Hi, Mary. How are you? How’s your son John? Is he still having problems with math?" Ed Mullin, a company executive for many years, said of his former boss, who passed away in 2016.
"When we had a few stores, he did it, and when we had a lot of stores, he did it," Mullin conintued. "He just had that love of people. He would engage in conversations with his employees, and it wasn’t just a thing to do. He enjoyed it, and he remembered them. You can’t put a value on that.”
7. THE ORIGINAL STORE IS STILL IN THE BILEZIKIAN FAMILY'S POSSESSION.
When Bed, Bath & Beyond purchased the company, they didn't want to take possession of all the retail locations. One store that they weren't interested in acquiring was the Yarmouth Port barn where it all began. When attempts to find a new tenant for the store were unsuccessful, Greg Bilezikian decided to follow in his parents' footsteps and open a story of his own, called Just Picked Gifts, in the original Christmas Tree Shops's location.