Mr. Christmas decorates Aspen for the holidays
December 6, 2011
ASPEN – It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Aspen and, as usual, Michael Carter has had a hand in the resort’s holiday transformation.
Better known as Mr. Christmas – it’s also the name of his tree lot in the courtyard out front of Clark’s Market in the Mill Street Station – Carter has helped deck the malls and the rest of downtown Aspen for more than three decades. For the past eight years, he has run the familiar Christmas tree lot outside of Clark’s, where a percentage of the sales benefits Aspen Junior Hockey. By the end of this season, Carter estimates the operation will have donated $50,000 to the hockey program over the eight-year span.
He credits the Mill Street Station landlords for charging no rent for the tree lot space in order to make the fundraiser possible.
In addition to tree sales, Carter and three employees he hires at the start of October will fashion some 1,700 wreaths for the season and string up roughly a half-mile of garland, made with freshly cut boughs, in downtown Aspen. The wreaths are sold at the tree lot and for several school fundraisers in the valley.
On Monday, Carter was busy wiring together large arches of boughs, fastened to a welded frame, to be hung over the doorways at a downtown restaurant. Garland for the restaurant’s window frames was also part of the job.
“I used to put up over a mile of garland, and we’d make over a mile of garland, too,” he said, working quickly with rough, ungloved hands, despite the cold.
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“I never wear gloves,” he said. “They get in the way.”
Now, many storefronts opt for artificial garland in their outdoor displays, particularly since the recession hit. So does the city of Aspen, which made the switch to fake garland and wreaths on its downtown light poles more than a decade ago, according to Carter.
Carter and his crew, working under a U.S. Forest Service permit, collect fresh boughs each season from the national forest.
“I don’t cut the trees down – I just trim the trees,” he said.
The trees on his lot, grown specifically as Christmas trees, are Fraser firs from Michigan. The trees grow faster in the more humid climate of the Midwest, he explained.
And the lot will sell trees right up until Christmas Day.
“We try to be the last one standing because so many people come in the day before,” he said. “I’ve had people call me from Miami who, before they get on their LearJet, say, ‘Save me a tree. I’ll be there in four hours,'” he said.
Some part-time residents who own a home in Aspen want a Christmas tree already in the living room when they arrive for the holidays. Some will find it up and lighted when they get to town, as local property managers arrange to have trees delivered to their clients’ homes ahead of time.
On Monday morning, Carter was quoting the prices of trees to a property manager who was handling several residences.
A 12-foot tree with a stand is $312. Delivery is another $100, and lights are extra.
The largest Christmas tree on the lot, a 16-footer, goes for $800, but a tree that isn’t even waist-high, set in a plastic water bowl and affixed to a Charlie Brown-type stand, is $30.
Carter, a silversmith who makes jewelry except during his three-month stint in the evergreen business, said decades of Christmas decorating hasn’t put a dint in his holiday spirit. One of the trees he delivers is to his home in New Castle.
“Always. I love it,” he said.