GRAFTON — The Internet, email, and lots of photos captured by cell phones have become an integral part of the annual “Scholarship Forest” Christmas tree-selling event put on by the Al DiVencenzo family to benefit schools, including those in North Ridgeville.
Despite the changing ways in which the holiday-centered business has seen itself promoted and remembered over the years, it clearly continues at least one strong tradition of the season.
“We’re not selling Christmas trees … we’re selling a way for families to spend some time together doing something fun,” DiVencenzo said this week as he made preparations for the farm’s second of four weekends of business.
“We’re starting to see young families re-establish this tradition,” DiVencenzo said. “It re-affirms that Christmas is really about families.”
An instructor at the Firelands campus of Bowling Green State University, DiVencenzo formerly served as special education director for the North Ridgeville Schools, which has benefited from the tree sale since 2008.
The sale also benefits endowment funds for Midview Schools, St. Peter School in North Ridgeville and the Midview-Grafton Public Library, which receive $10 from each tree sold as designated by the buyer.
Proceeds are used for a variety of things ranging from reading and arts programs to field trips.
In the mid-1990s, the event did well to sell 20 trees. This year, DiVencenzo expects to shake, wrap and carry trees to vehicles of an estimated 500 buyers.
“It keeps growing every year,” he said.
When they’re not outside hunting for the perfect tree, customers can warm up inside a small sales shop with hot chocolate while munching on peanuts or crunching candy canes.
The farm used to be a cash-only venture but changing times led to acceptance of credit cards about six or seven years ago.
“So many people don’t carry any cash these days,” DiVencenzo said.
Now he walks through the fields behind the building transacting sales with the help of a Smartphone capable of scanning credit cards and sending electronic sales slips to buyers.
“About 60 percent of our business is done by credit cards now,” DiVencenzo said.
What haven’t changed are the hard-working teens DiVencenzo hires for the month-long tree–selling event.
“They have to pass muster from my wife first,” he joked, referring to his wife, Beth, a fifth-grade teacher in the Midview district.
DiVencenzo cited the example of an older woman from Elyria who purchased a tree during the opening weekend of business.
“It was too big for her car so one of my kids offered to deliver it to her after he got off work that night,” DiVencenzo said.
Along with his traditionally popular crop of Fraser firs — supplied by a southern Ohio grower — and Scotch pines, DiVencenzo also offers Canaan firs and blue spruce.
Trees can be cut by customers or purchased pre-cut, with prices ranging from $32 for a 7-foot Scotch pine to $160 for a 14-foot Fraser fir.
Despite the growing popularity of 12- to 14-foot trees, much shorter 5-foot trees are strong sellers.
“They don’t take up a lot of room and they go for just $25,” DiVencenzo said.
“The Sunday after Thanksgiving has become the new Christmas for more families,” DiVencenzo said, alluding to the number of trees bought the past weekend for celebrations held by scattered families able to gather for Thanksgiving but who are unable to visit each other again in December.
And if anyone needs another reason for buying a fresh tree, they can take a cue from the sign outside DiVencenzo’s shop that tells how live trees absorb carbon dioxide and give off fresh oxygenated air in its place.
That’s a gift anyone could get behind.
The “Scholarship Forest” is open 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 21.
The DiVencenzo Family Tree Farm is at 18101 Island Road in Grafton, a few miles east of state Route 83.