For those who celebrate Christmas, selecting a tree is an annual tradition. For George Cason, selling trees to the Charlottesville community is a way of life.
George Cason’s father, L.E., began selling Christmas trees more than 100 years ago. Mr. and Mrs. L.E. Cason had seven boys and one girl, and as the children grew old enough, they would pitch in with the family business—selling trees, making wreaths, gathering mistletoe. George says he was 6 or 7 when he went to work.
In the early days, the family hauled cedar trees from their farm on Stony Point Road in Albemarle County to Main Street in Charlottesville, now the Downtown Mall. Any trees that didn’t sell during the day had to be taken back in the evening. George remembers setting up on a corner and remaining there to keep the spot from competitors. “You had to stay up half the night to make sure somebody else didn’t take it,” he says.
There were hard times, like when he was close enough to a restaurant to smell the food cooking all day, but didn’t have any money for lunch. “My father would put me on the corner down on Main Street early, and wouldn’t even leave me a dime—didn’t have a dime to leave me—to get something to eat,” he says. “That went on for about two weeks before people started buying trees.”
George recalls a Christmas Eve sometime in the 1940s with mischievous glee. “My daddy told me, ‘Son, if anybody wants that large cedar tree, just give it to them. That way, I won’t have to haul it back to the country,’” he says. “As it’s getting dark, the president of the People’s Bank walked out there. He said, ‘How much is that large Christmas tree there?’ I said,‘20 dollars.’ He reached in his pocket and pulled out a brand new 20 dollar bill and gave it to me. My daddy never did see none of that.”
Now near 90, George has sold Christmas trees nearly all of his life. He says he was out of the business for three years, while he served in the United States Army Air Corps, beginning in 1947. But as he held other jobs, he always made time to work at the Christmas tree lot each year. “It’s in my blood, I guess,” he says.
As the last surviving family member, George keeps the Christmas tree business going, but he no longer manages the day-to-day operations. The stand, now located at Albemarle Square Shopping Center, is the responsibility of Bob Thomas, who has been working for George for more than a decade. George describes Thomas as a “super man.”
Thomas and a two-person team opened up shop the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and will be there “until we run out of trees,” he says. “Seven days a week, 10 hours a day, we’re here—rain or shine or snow. We just get the job done, and we have a good time being here.”
Each year, Cason’s Christmas Trees brings in upwards of 700 Fraser fir trees from Boone, North Carolina. “We carry everything from the little tabletop trees to the 10- to 12-foot trees,” says Thomas. When they’re not shaping trees or helping customers load them up, Thomas and co. are making wreaths by hand from cut branches.
Business has been brisk this year. “We saw a big rush right before Thanksgiving, which was unusual,” Thomas says. He chalks that up to people being restless at home and ready to bring on the Christmas cheer due to the pandemic.
Fortunately, Thomas says, “it was a good growing season. The trees are full and green, and ready for people to get them and support Meals on Wheels.” Each year, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Cason’s trees goes to Meals on Wheels.
In the last 14 years, the nonprofit that delivers food to ill and aging people in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area has received about $25,000 from the tree sales, according to Communications Manager Hannah Winstead. “The Cason family, as with all of our donors, are essential to making our service possible,” she says.
“Hopefully while everyone’s out getting their Christmas trees, this partnership can be a reminder to the community of those who are struggling most during what, for many of us, is the happiest time of the year,” Winstead says. “Since most of our clients are elderly or immuno-compromised, most will not see family this holiday season.”
By purchasing a tree from Cason’s, people are supporting a family legacy and helping to alleviate hunger for other families in the community. And they’re paying it forward for the young George Cason, standing on a corner selling trees, who couldn’t afford lunch.