Virgil and Jim’s Christmas trees is the local business that remembers their customers after seeing them once a year.
“We drove by and saw the sign. We’ve been coming here for 15 years! This is my grandson’s first Christmas,” Aaryn Vaughn said.
The customer service, the people, the selection and the prices keep bringing customers back.
“We’ve come the past couple of years. We saw them while driving by. We have four at home and my youngest is one. We’ll keep coming back,” Mike Carpenter said.
They can be found on Jackson Rd at 5100 Jackson Avenue behind West End Hair. It’s hard to miss the brightly lit sign and wreaths out front on Jackson Ave. From an opposite view, their lights and another sign are visible from highway 94 near exit 169.
The stand is open starting Black Friday and closes on Christmas Eve, or when they run out of trees.
Originally, this business was run solely by Virgil Johnson who sold Christmas trees starting in 1955. Johnson owned a full-service gas station on Washtenaw Avenue and Hewitt Road where he would sell trees when the season came around.
In 1976 Jim Black married Johnson’s youngest daughter, Wanda. Three years passed, with Black taken under Johnson’s wing, and the business became Virgil and Jim’s Christmas trees.
Unfortunately, Johnson passed away in 2010 at age 92. He was apart of the business until the end of his life. Now, the stand is run by Mr. and Mrs. Black, Mike who is Jim’s brother-in-law, Matt and Carl, both of which are family friends. Wanda insists they are family, not simply family friends.
“I love it, working here. People are always happy. Virgil knew my grandfather and he fixed my grandpa’s car,” Carl said.
Carl started working with Virgil and Jim around the age of 17. He took a break to live his life before returning to work for the stand when the season comes around.
“I love working here. I’ve quit a few jobs to keep working here. This is a family thing and I really enjoy that,” Matt said.
Matt has been working with the business for over 13 years. The five dedicated members running Virgil and Jim’s Christmas Trees recognize the importance of family and running a family business.
“We really like that it’s a family run business,” daughter, Sojna, said.
“It’s not a cut your own tree farm,” mom, Kersten said.
“We’ve been coming here for six or seven years,” dad, Mike, said.
The family of three saw the stand while driving by. They keep coming back because the people are nice, there’s a great selection and it’s family oriented.
The specific uniting factor that keeps each family coming back and that draws in new customers is the people. The group of five, once six, that keeps the work ethic Johnson began in ‘55.
“Other than him not being here not much has changed since Virgil’s death,” Black said. “We do everything the same. It feels like he’s still with us.”
The family keeps Virgil in the conversations and jokes throughout the business. Customers still ask about him, and while the truth has to come to light, the conversations never turn sour. Virgil’s name will stay on the business and his memory lives on every day within the family and with the customers.
Their property up north supplies the trees they bring down to Ann Arbor which allows Virgil and Jim’s is a strong part of the Scio Township community. Companies such as Weber’s, Toyota, Subaru and Planet Rock purchase trees from this stand. Planet Rock has a 22-foot tree this year which weighs around 500 pounds.
Because they own a property in northern Michigan they always know how fresh the trees are. Not only are their trees fresh but so are their wreaths. They know a couple up north who makes their wreaths with fresh cuttings provided by the Black’s.
Something no customer can ever recall is how they heard about the stand. They all say they saw a sign while driving by but there is always a pause before the answer is said. Word of mouth and being present is how the business continues to flourish. This is necessary as the business has very little online presence.
“We have a website that someone made us a while ago but I don’t use that form of communication much,” Black said.
Black’s personal cell phone is also the business’ phone number. His phone stays plugged in and on audible inside the mobile unit where sells and transactions are completed.
At the register Black always asks if his crew gave a fresh cut, bailed, and helped load up the tree. They do everything possible to ensure the customer has a great experience, not simply a good or decent experience.
“Our motto is, ‘You don’t have to touch the tree until you get home,” Mrs. Black said.
Mr. Black added the majority of moms and kids that picking out the tree without dad are able to do so confidently because they know the crew will take care of everything until the family returns home.
Mrs. Black has multiple pairs of reading glasses lined along the window sill near the register for her own benefit as well as for customers who forgot their own.
Kids find excitement in picking out a tree as it is but Virgil and Jim’s takes it a step further. Kids, and adults, are able to pick out a small cutting with a base as well as an ornament. This way the young ones can have their own ‘tree’ in their room or an adult can have a festive desk decoration.
A bowl of candy canes sits beside the register for all to enjoy. Dog treats are also available for the families that bring their furry family members.
The family moved their sales table to a vertical position after years of it sitting in a horizontal position due to adding two new family members. The Black couple are now owners of twin sister Boxers that are five months old.
“My great-niece babysits them on the weekends when we’re the busiest because we can’t give them the attention they deserve,” Mrs. Black said.
Oddly enough, when Wanda was growing up, Johnson didn’t involve his family in the business. Wanda wasn’t born yet when Johnson first started selling Christmas trees. Their family had a fake tree, a silver one is colorful lights that spun. It wasn’t until Jim married into the family that Wanda got involved.
Black’s kids aren’t involved in the business either they didn’t take an interest. When the time comes, as it did for Virgil, the business will continue as will the great memories.
The plan is to find an interested party to bring on as a partner. There would be a transition of about three years so the partner can learn the business as well as about the customers.
“It’s more personal than it is about business,” Mrs. Black said.