Andy's Trees Signal Christmas for Area
Selling Christmas trees is part business and part ministry for Andy Bureau, whose silver hair, twinkling eyes and ready smile require only a beard and tummy to complete the seasonal motif.
The business part goes back 27 years, to a stand on pre-Walmart U.S. 15-501, when trees — good trees, nursery stock, the only kind Andy sells — cost $20, at most. The ministry component begs a Hollywood treatment.
Bureau, 73, arrived from the Florida Keys, on foot, pulling a 200-pound wooden cross. The year was 1971.
“I heard the voice of the Lord, audibly,” Bureau says. “He asked, ‘Andy, would you walk through the country for me?’”
The reply: “Yes, Lord.”
Thus Andy commenced a 1,000-mile trek up U.S. 1 in a pair of shoes that never wore out. He grew a long beard, slept under the stars, ate donated food and ended his journey in Southern Pines at the urging of like-minded residents.
The weary but exhilarated pilgrim settled in Carthage.
A similar revelation called him to preach.
“The Bible teaches that when the spirit of God enters a person, he automatically becomes a minister,” he says.
The Christmas tree business evolved from logging, with a secondary agenda: “A tree is a symbol of opportunity for manifesting a genuine, loving service,” Bureau says. Today a tree, tomorrow, perhaps a soul.
Bureau sells up to 800 trees per season, the majority to repeat clientele and their adult children. Prices range from $50 into the hundreds, depending on height — from barely 6 feet to a statuesque 14 feett. Price includes removing loose needles in a device called Shakee, then netting and loading. Delivery and setup are free for people lacking suitable vehicles.
For this godly salesman, charity begins at work.
“If someone comes here and wants a (free) tree for a good reason I usually give it to him,” he says.
Chapter one opens in Maine, where Bureau grew up in a French-Canadian Catholic family. He married young, and in seven years, fathered five children. To support them, he built and operated a resort hotel on the Maine coast, with hopes of creating a chain. This endeavor brought him to Florida. The Lord had different plans, he says.
“My wife thought I was crazy,” Bureau says.
Andy and Joline Bureau divorced.
“After two years of praying, the Lord gave me a vision that would open up my wife’s heart,” he says. “It worked. We got remarried, and I reassembled with my family.”
Bureau bought land in Carthage and established a logging/sawmilling enterprise, where he could labor alongside his children. He preached wherever a congregation would listen — and still does, here and in Jacksonville, Fla.
But, come late October, the Bureaus, with cat and dog, pack up their mobile home and head for the Sandhills. They moved the tree business to the corner of Broad Street and Morganton Road in 2005. Joline keeps the books. Their children, grandchildren and several employees help on the lot.
“It’s a happy business,” says son James Bureau, who otherwise manufactures Port-a-Sheds.
A Christmas tree transaction begins at the supplier near Boone. North Carolina is ranked second in the United States in the number of trees harvested annually. Several have been chosen for the White House.
Bureau, a quality fanatic, sells only Fraser firs grown by an 84-year-old who harvests half a million trees a year. They are so perfectly groomed that a long-ago artist customer spent four hours finding an imperfect tree for her interpretive decoration.
Setting up the lot takes three weeks of hard labor. Every tree is kept in water from arrival to sale, to maximize longevity. The most popular size is 8 feet, costing close to $90.
The matching process can be touchy. Trees don’t wear price tags.
“When you see the right tree, it talks to you,” Bureau says.
He greets each customer and offers assistance.
“Some people say, ‘Pick a tree for me, Andy,’” he says.
Others circle the setup trees for hours. But 95 percent of the people who stop leave with a tree.
After 10 years as a customer, Diane Harris, of Southern Pines, dressed in a holly sweatshirt, shares her method.
“I look at the tree nearest (the office hut),” she says. “That’s usually the most perfect one so I use it as a guide. I tell Andy what I want. We negotiate the price. He brings the tree to our house and sets it up.”
Others, such as Jeanie Garcia, of Carthage, are novices.
“All we’ve ever had is artificial trees,” she says. “But now my husband and I are starting a tradition for our daughter.”
Eric Braun, of Pinebluff, sums it up: “Andy is just the most helpful and knowledgeable Christmas tree salesman up and down the road.”
Joline Bureau receives payments in the office. The part-time business does not qualify for credit cards. Other vendors cautioned them about accepting checks.
“I never lost a dollar on a check,” Andy Bureau beams, glancing heavenward.
The Bureaus do recall dicey situations, such as the time a customer wanted the tree topped off, with the top placed on the roof, as though the tree had burst through. And there is that storybook post-Christmas sale.
“I had one tree left on the lot,” Bureau says. “I put my phone number on it.”
A man called the day after Christmas saying he promised his children, coming from out of town, that he would have a tree.
“I gave it to him,” Bureau says.
But even the tannenbaum trade is not recession proof. Business may be down slightly, Joline Bureau admits, although prices have held steady for four years. She’s not worried.
“Our faithful customers keep us going,” she says. “We’re thankful to the Lord for that.”
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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