There are many things that signify the holiday season: Christmas music on the radio, decorations in shop windows, and greeting cards in the mailbox. For Ridgefielders, there’s also one very town-specific hint that Christmas is coming: Tubby Tim’s Tree Farm. Run by Ridgefield residents Tim and Mary Dent, Tubby Tim’s, open from the day after Thanksgiving until the last tree is sold, is as much a part of the local holiday season as the lights on Ridgefield’s Main Street. This season marks the 34th year of Tubby Tim’s. What started small has grown organically – no pun intended. “We never dreamed it would become this big,” says Mary.
Mary and Tim first met in Alaska where they were both working at the time. Tim, who was born and raised in Ridgefield, returned home in 1988 to help his mom. While living at home, he decided to start selling Christmas trees and Tubby Tim’s Tree Farm – an alliterative play on words – was born. Mary joined Tim a few years later. The tree lot at that time was located next to Union Savings Bank. They had a trailer parked there, where, after a long day of selling, they were joined by their other 20-something friends for drinks and cards, often lasting late into the evening. “Nowadays, you most likely find us home by 7pm with a cup of tea,” says Mary.
Over the years, they tried expanding into Cross River and Wilton, but Tim is Ridgefield born and bred. “It just wasn’t the same,” says Mary. Tubby Tim’s now makes its home at the Limestone Service Station. “At first, I was nervous because it was further out of town, but it’s been great and here we are, years later,” Tim says.
Tubby Tim’s sells trees that are indigenous to the East Coast: Fraser firs sourced from North Carolina and Balsams from New Hampshire and Vermont. At the beginning, Mary and Tim use to visit the farms every year to walk the fields and inspect the trees. They now have established relationships with the farmers – some of whom they’ve been buying from for over 20 years. “We know the quality of their trees,” says Mary.
The Christmas tree market has waxed and waned over the years, but ironically, the pandemic resulted in an uptick of tree sales. “We were worried that our customers weren’t going to show, but they came, hoping to bring Christmas joy into their homes to help offset such a difficult and uncertain time,” says Tim. With so many people staying home for the holidays, they even picked up several new customers.
Most years, Tubby Tim’s sells every tree on the lot. “We had only one or two years where we overbought,” says Mary. Unsold trees are put out for free if it’s before Christmas, or chipped and recycled.
Tubby Tim’s hires local high schoolers and college students as “lotsmen” to help each season, many of whom return year after year. “We even have a couple of guys, who are out of college, that still come and work the weekends with us,” says Mary. The job is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work, often in cold and wet conditions. Although snow covered trees may seem picturesque, the lotsmen need to shake the snow off every tree to prevent damage to the branches. “We’ve even rented large Uhaul trucks with propane heaters to thaw the trees by shifting them in and out all day,” says Tim. The Dents have high expectations for their lotsmen: greet all customers with a smile and eye contact, dress appropriately, and stay busy. “For many of our workers, this is their first job, and we instill in them a strong work ethic and the importance of excellent customer service,” says Tim.
All of this creates a unique and joyful atmosphere. You can get your Christmas tree anywhere, but there is something special about Tubby Tim’s. “People come and leave with so much more than just a tree or a wreath,” says Mary. “It’s an experience.” One customer, Maureen Curran, knows just that. On her very first visit to Tubby Tim’s, she had selected a tree, two wreaths and a kissing ball. Everything was loaded and tied to her car when Curran discovered that she only had her credit card and not the cash to pay. She figured she’d have to unload all her purchases but was told to just return when she could. “I was amazed at the Tubby Tim’s holiday spirit and the trust they had that I would come back and pay,” says Curran. She did, by the way, and has been a repeat customer since then.
As much as Tubby Tim’s gives to their customers, the Dents get just as much in return. “At the end of a weekend, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much!” says Mary. It’s that connection, to their workers, and to their customers, and to the community that sets Tubby Tim’s apart. •