a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The nearly lost art of flocking Christmas trees

Mike Joseph of Joseph's Nursery & Garden Center in Monessen, Pa., explains the Christmas tree flocking process at his family-owned business. (Scott Beveridge photo)


By Scott Beveridge


MONESSEN, Pa.  Last week I was interviewing a corporate executive from the Richmond, Va., area when, while making small talk, we discovered we had both grown up in the same region on the Monongahela River Valley.


He in Brownsville, Pa., and I, in Webster, a small Westmoreland County village 19 miles north of his Fayette County hometown.


Then he surprised me by saying he would drive five hours this way the next day to purchase a live, flocked Christmas tree at Joseph's Nursery & Garden Center in nearby Monessen.


"They're hard to find. You can't purchase them anywhere in Virginia," he said.


I hadn't seen or thought about such trees since I was a kid in the 1960s, when they were sort of popular and sold fluffy white or in pastel shades of pink and blue.


So yesterday I went in search of Joseph's, about four miles south of my house, a business I was familiar with only in name. I went there with my aunt to see its flocked trees and also purchase a regular fresh-cut tree for my living room.


The GPS app in my Droid inaccurately took me to 921 Rostraver Road in nearby Belle Vernon, past a Walmart and an Eat'n Park. A quick smartphone check there on Google maps directed me back to Monessen to a street entrance that had long ago been allowed to become overgrown with grass.


A little exploring on the hill there eventually put me on Rostraver Street and en route to Joseph's, a business sandwiched between houses in this decaying former steel town neighborhood.


Mike Joseph immediately greeted us and showed us his perfectly manicured trees grown on the family farm in Uniontown. It didn't take much urging for him to show us into the barn to see the flocked trees.


"People, if they've never seen it before, they think it's something new," Joseph said.


The flocking business, though, has been around since the 1930s, he said.


He went on to explain these trees are sprayed with ground cotton and rayon, mixed with water and glue, materials that swell when they dry over the course of two days.


When dry they are beautiful and sell for about $160.


What's even more beautiful about this business is the friendly customer service. Joseph and his father quickly bound my tree with cotton fishnet and tied it on the roof of my car.


It's no wonder Joseph's has survived decades in business, even in an area with devastated downtown business districts and big box stores breathing down its back.


The family defines all the reasons why it's good to shop local.


More examples of flocked pine at Joseph's Nursery & Garden Center in Monessen, Pa. (Scott Beveridge photo)

2 comments:

Rebecca M. said...

I thought flocking was a southern tradition. Many of our friends in Georgia would flock their Christmas tree to bring a bit of "winter" to the holidays even though it was usually dreadfully warm out. I had no idea that it was a popular form of art. Thanks for enlightning me.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your article. Although I was surprised to hear that the gentleman from Richmond, VA did not realize that flocked trees are also sold in Virginia.

Charlie's Produce & Nursery located at 7628 George Washington Memorial Highway in Yorktown, Virginia (phone 757-890-3000) has been selling flocked Christmas trees, wreaths and garland since the early 1990s. They flock trees in white, pink, red, blue, yellow, gold, purple, lavender, turquoise, black, mixed rainbow, and can even add glitter. They will also flock your artificial tree. Charlie's is also a small family operated business.