For much of the year, the lot at West Eighth Avenue and Arbutus Street sits empty. But that all changes mid-November, when the Camillo family moves in with their Christmas tree lot of nobles, firs and everything in between and sets it sparkling with Christmas lights.
Members of the Camillo family have sold Christmas trees in Kitsilano for the past 54 years, helping generations of residents decorate their living rooms each holiday season. Every year, the family drops their regular jobs to dedicate up to 16 hours a day to the Christmas lot during the holiday season.
Now, 61-year-old Mario Camillo leads the show. He claims some customers experience his jolly nature and mistake him for Santa Claus despite his beardless face and fit build.
“You feel like Santa Claus bringing that tree back. [The kids] know that now you have a tree, here he comes,” said Camillo.
The lot was started by his uncle Phil and aunt Adele in 1959 in front of the old Chevron centre at Broadway and Alma Street. The idea materialized during a slow month for Camillo’s construction company.
“[My uncle] didn’t know what to do so he thought he’d bring me a Christmas tree, and that’s how it started,” Camillo said.
Back then, the lot was smaller and they didn’t start selling trees until the beginning of December at the earliest. The idea caught on with the family and has been a constant ever since.
“The whole family rallied around doing the Christmas trees. Now my son helps me and my sister,” said Camillo. “We were always known as the family that does the Christmas trees.”
Though both his uncle and aunt have passed away, Camillo continues the Christmas tree tradition that he grew up with — a task that’s grown to selling 1,500 trees each season, starting as early as mid-November.
But he doesn’t mind the work, and says there are benefits to the long days.
“I get extra stamina. I was trying to lose weight, but I find when I work at the tree lot I lose weight a lot quicker,” he said. “It just flies off you.”
For Camillo, it’s the joy of helping the community and making sure customers have a happy experience that makes the job worthwhile. And he feels like a rock star.
“[Customers] come to give me hugs and kisses,” he said. “It always seems like you’re having a Christmas celebration every day with the people. It gets in your blood I guess.”
Some of their repeat customers return Christmas Eve for last-minute tree shopping as a tradition. Camillo stays open for them and said they sell up to 75 trees on Christmas Eve. He also opens up from Jan. 1 to 13 to receive old trees to recycle for wood chippings.
Though the hours are long and it can be hard work, for Camillo, his idea of Christmas is now defined by bringing the community the joy of a fresh tree.
“At Christmas time it would really seem weird not to do it; to not have that feeling again that makes Christmas feel like Christmas: when people buy Christmas trees.”