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April 2014


Lisbon man sells Christmas trees for 40 years

Tom Nowak of the Town of Lisbon has been selling Christmas trees from his home for the past 40 years.

Tom Nowak of the Town of Lisbon has been selling Christmas trees from his home for the past 40 years. Photo by: Kelly Smith

Town of Lisbon — Karen from Slinger has been sent on a mission by her husband: Find a Christmas tree. They want a tall, natural, cut tree at a reasonable price. A plumber friend suggested she go see Tom Nowak in the Town of Lisbon.

Nowak, 76, has sold Christmas trees in southeastern Wisconsin for most of his adult life, including nearly 40 years at his home at N72 W24090 Good Hope Road.

Various species of Christmas trees on makeshift stands are tightly packed in his front and side yards. Karen has the look of a woman who has found what she is looking for as she emerges from the vehicle she parked in the horseshoe-shaped driveway that stretches across Nowak's front yard.

She tells him she is looking for a tall tree. He takes her directly to a 12-footer. After carefully perusing the tree, she concludes, "It may be too tall."

Nowak later explained that each year in the late fall he makes two trips to a Christmas tree planation near Phillips on Highway 13 in Price County, a nearly six-hour round trip. He and his work crew cut about 150 to 200 trees.

"I only take what I know I can sell. Anything leftover is overhead I don't want," he said.

After being the cut, the trees are neatly lined in a row, the butt of their trunks facing the same direction so the crew can efficiently pick the trees up and shove them into an apparatus that mechanically binds them in twine. They are then stacked on Tom's homemade trailer for the trip back to Lisbon.

Recently, he has been making a third trip to a plantation in Plainfield, along Highway 39 south of Stevens Point, where he acquires the pricier Fraser Firs.

Most of Tom's trees are in the $35 to $50 range, but the Frasers go for between $50 and $75. He says sales of the trendy trees have increased over the past few years despite a sluggish economy.

"Price doesn't matter to people with money," he said.

Nowak's profit margin doesn't seem much when you consider cost of the gasoline and the hours his crews spend traveling, cutting, and hauling the trees. The retired Briggs and Stratton worker is apparently in it for more than just the money.

"I should be in Florida, retired," he said

"But, it gets in your blood. It seems like it is the right thing to do this time of the year," he added.

Up until two years ago, Nowak also sold trees at a Brown Deer location, but he has since closed down the site.

He recalls back in the late 1960s and early 1970s he could sell 1,000 trees a season.

"But, that was before Steins and Menards," he added.

Karen, who declined to give her last name, looked over a couple more trees with Nowak before picking one.

The price must have been right for her, because she decided to add one of Tom's wreaths to her purchase.

As Tom helped her load the tree in her vehicle, Karen thanked him.

"You have made by Christmas tree shopping for next year easier," she said as she drove away.

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