Tree sale benefiting food bank returns to Ollie's lot
After being denied permission by Springettsbury Township to set up his Christmas-tree sale in the Ollie's parking lot at 1081 Haines Rd. eight years ago, Glen Olsen is glad to be back in his old spot.
Sunday, Olsen and three other men hammered away at wooden racks designed to hold the trees. There was an ear-nipping, chilly wind blowing.
Olsen, 65, said he has been selling Christmas trees to benefit charity organizations since 1972. For the past 25 years, he's been donating the proceeds from tree sales and collecting material donations for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
Olsen told the Springettsbury Township Board of Supervisors in 2007 that in 2006 the tree sale raised $1,800 for the food bank and collected 115 turkeys and eight tons of food.
But the next year, a change in the township's zoning law set his operation back significantly.
No permit: An ordinance adopted in June 2007 stated that temporary-use permits could not be used for properties that are approved or zoned for a single use — such as the Ollie's parking lot.
"The board of supervisors had many complaints about businesses moving in during peak season and not having to go through everything (a permanent business) goes through," township engineer John Luciani said Sunday.
For example, an Easter flower stand set up by the highway wouldn't have to pay property taxes or rent: they could just make their money and leave.
Olsen couldn't get a permit in 2007, so he had to move the tree sale to the Weis Markets parking lot at 693 Lombard Road in Red Lion.
"When we moved down to Red Lion, our sales dropped by half, and food donations dropped by three-quarters," he said.
Over the eight years that Olsen and his staff — half of whom he said are volunteers and the other half paid — have been stationed at the Red Lion location, business has improved. Last year, he said, they gathered about a ton of food donations and donated $2,000 to the food bank.
The sale will occur at both locations this year. "We're doing this only in case Springettsbury Township doesn't allow us to come back next year," Olsen said. "We want to make sure they're happy campers with us."
The solution: Instead of applying for a temporary-use permit, he said, this year he secured the lot by calling the sale a special event and going through his host, Ollie's Bargain Outlet.
This is more acceptable to the township, Luciani said, because a special-event permit lasts only 30 days and selling Christmas trees could be seen as being in the "normal course of business" that Ollie's does. Olsen also had to prove he had adequate parking under the special-events permit, Luciani said.
Olsen worries that many of his former customers have defected to big-box stores such as Wal-Mart to buy their Christmas trees. He hopes to win back his city customers this year, he said.
But he was conservative when ordering trees, opting to stock 1,000 at the Red Lion location and 500 at the Ollie's lot.
Favorites: When asked what kind of tree his own family favors, Olsen said, "That's a good question."
Tastes in the area have changed over the years, he said. People used to go for Scotch pines and Douglas firs, but now they're more into Fraser firs. Fraser firs are "green at the tips of the needles and blue underneath — really pretty," he said.
Fraser firs are mainly grown in North Carolina, he said, but since their popularity spread, especially in the last 10 years, farmers in the north have started fertilizing their land so that Frasers can grow in their soil.
The trees Olsen sells come from farms in Littlestown, York and Harrisburg, he said.
Olsen's son-in-law Dan Johnson, who was helping set up, said he has helped his father-in-law with the tree sale for 18 years.
"Most of the time, it's pretty fun," he said. "People are in good moods when they come here."
Johnson said his family usually opts for a Fraser fir or a concolor fir. The latter has long, soft needles and a tangerine-like smell, he said.
For donations of food, Olsen offers a $2 discount on trees worth $20 and a $4 discount on trees worth $40.
The tree sale will be open every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. starting Friday.
"We'll be open till Christmas Eve at 6 p.m.," he said. "Even on the last day we'll probably sell 50 trees."
— Reach Julia Scheib at email@example.com.