The end of an era – year-round – when Christmas Tree Shops files for bankruptcy protection
“This is strictly a financial restructuring,” Chairman Marc Salkovit said in a statement, which also announced $45 million in new financing to fund Chapter 11 operations. “Our operations are healthy. By increasing our financial flexibility, we will be able to focus on continuing to delight our loyal customers with a wide selection of unique items at reasonable prices.”
The news has upset longtime shoppers who wistfully remember buying Fourth of July marshmallow sticks and Christmas decorations here. (One Twitter user quipped, “I remember having to go as a kid and it always smelled weird.”[ads1];)
“It’s amazing,” said Loretta Bradley, a Tewksbury resident who walked out of the Somerville store on Friday with finds for a Kentucky Derby party this weekend: two serving bowls imprinted with watermelon slices ($2.99 each) and a monogrammed dish towel with “P” for her friend Pam ($1.99).
“Where else,” she mused, “can you find such things?”
Bonnie Sestito, another superfan of Christmas Tree Shops, came in to look on Friday after hearing about the bankruptcy, worried it would close before she had a chance. Among her past purchases? Bird seed, toiletries and snacks.
“Today I’m here just to be here,” Sesito said, holding a mitt designed to clean potted plants, which she admittedly didn’t need. “It’s a very nice place to shop.”
The Christmas Tree Shops franchise has a history in Massachusetts. In the 1950s, a couple opened “The Christmas Tree Gift Shop” in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod from May through October, according to Good Housekeeping. In the 1970s, it changed hands to Chuck and Doreen Bilezikian, who expanded the store to include toys and summer merchandise, and over the next three decades opened 24 additional locations in New England and New York.
Their son, Greg Bilezikian, said his family got into retail at just the right time, when big-box retailers — including Walmart, Pier 1 Imports and Crate and Barrel — were expanding rapidly. The news of possible bankruptcy is heartbreaking, but not entirely surprising, he added.
Christmas Tree Shops “were all we knew growing up,” said Bilezikian, who now runs Just Picked Gifts in Yarmouth. – It was a lot of fun for a lot of people. [The bankruptcy has] aroused feelings for various parts of the family now. But I understand. The world has changed. It’s evolving, and it’s hard to be an entrepreneur in retail today.”
In 2003, Bed Bath and Beyond purchased Christmas Tree Shops from the Bilezikians for $200 million and expanded the franchise to 20 states. In November 2020, it sold the company to Middleborough-based Handhil Holdings LLC, for an undisclosed sum. (Just last month, Bed Bath and Beyond filed for bankruptcy itself, to the dismay of loyal customers and coupons.)
Over the years, the Christmas tree shops have been praised for their architecture as much as their stock. Many places are designed to fit the charm of old Victorian and colonial style buildings. The location on Route 1 in Lynnfield, next to what was once The Ship restaurant, has a lighthouse, despite being 10 miles from the ocean; another at the Sagamore Bridge rotary in Cape Cod has a huge windmill. And the store on Somerville’s Assembly Row has an impressive clock tower on top, often a resting place for pigeons.
But on Friday, that storefront had a dwindling flow of customers and a few empty shelves.
Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World, said he had noticed these signs of struggle when he quit in recent weeks. The usual displays of large pots, fresh flowers and patio chairs had disappeared in Somerville. (It has not yet been confirmed whether this storefront — or any — will close during the bankruptcy proceedings.)
“I knew there was something wrong stock-wise days ago,” he added. “They just didn’t have the breadth of items they usually have. They closed the left side of the store. They built a wall of shelves with toiletries and health and beauty aids.”
An Arlington woman who declined to share her name also said Christmas Tree Shops are now a remnant of a fading business model. The COVID-19 pandemic and increasing dominance of online shopping has taken a toll on retailers over the past three years. Similar big box companies, such as JC Penney and Lord and Taylor, have filed for bankruptcy since 2020.
Even here at the Somerville store, prices are going up and inventory is running low.
“$2.50 used to be the magic number here,” she added. “Now almost nothing goes for that much.”
Despite the gradual increase in prices, several people told the Globe on Friday that the stores are still their favorite stores.
Brockton native Marjorie Goodwin said she visits often to pick up “whatever catches her eye” — Easter-themed welcome mats and small craft-sized American flags among them. “I will be sad to see it go.”
Holding jumbo boxes of Victor Allen single-brew coffee cups, Elaine Ross of Revere had a more positive spin.
“It’s a little disappointing,” she said. “But maybe it will help me cut back on my expenses.”
Diti Kohli can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.