Gabriel Cerqua, of Clinton Township, stands in his Christmas tree lot on Harper Avenue.

Gabriel Cerqua, of Clinton Township, stands in his Christmas tree lot on Harper Avenue.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske


Tree lot has history on Harper Avenue

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published December 7, 2018

 Gabriel’s Christmas Trees has been located on Harper Avenue, north of 11 Mile Road, since the early 1990s.

Gabriel’s Christmas Trees has been located on Harper Avenue, north of 11 Mile Road, since the early 1990s.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — “Before I met her, I didn’t know anything about Christmas trees.”

That’s how Gabriel Cerqua, the owner of Gabriel’s Christmas Trees, 28300 Harper Ave., starts the story of how his lot came to be a holiday tradition in St. Clair Shores for more than a quarter-century.

When he became engaged to his wife, Angie, he discovered that her father, Filippo Minaudo, was in the Christmas tree business. Minaudo approached Cerqua about getting involved, and the rest is history.

Cerqua began leasing some land in 1982 and planted 6,000 Scotch pines and 3,000 spruces. Every year he planted more trees, and about 10 years later, he was able to harvest his first Christmas trees. He ended up buying the property in South Boardman, in Kalkaska County, about 20 miles southeast of Traverse City. After selling some trees to his father-in-law, whose lot was down at 10 Mile Road and Harper Avenue, he branched out on his own, leasing the land on the east side of Harper Avenue, north of 11 Mile Road, where he’s been selling trees each holiday season since the early 1990s.

Minaudo retired from the Christmas tree business — he’s 91 now — but Cerqua kept going.

“I enjoy it. I like the outdoors. This gives me a chance to stay outdoors,” he said.

Cerqua lives in Clinton Township, but he said he loves selling trees in St. Clair Shores.

“It’s smaller homes, and there’s nice people,” he said. “I like to see them leave here with a smile on their face.”

Because his is a small plantation, he’s able to do all the work himself since retiring from General Motors in 2004. His family comes and helps him on the weekends during the busy holiday season.

“Yesterday, my whole family was here,” he said Dec. 3. That included his two daughters, sons-in-law and four grandchildren. “They were all helping out.”

Although she grew up with a father in the Christmas tree business, Angie Cerqua said that she didn’t help much growing up, but her two daughters help their father with the lot now that they are grown.

“On the weekends, they help with cashiering and their husbands help out, too, with the labor on the lot,” she said.

Gabriel’s Christmas Trees opens up the day after Thanksgiving and is usually sold out of trees by Dec. 20 or 21. If there are just a few trees left, Cerqua said that he donates them to Focus Hope if they want them — otherwise, the unwanted trees end up in the wood chipper. He sells between 700 and 750 trees a year.

Although he’s working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily in November and December, Cerqua doesn’t rest on his laurels the rest of the year. Depending on the weather, he said, he can work on the tree farm year-round. He heads north in early spring to start cleaning up the property and then replants with seedlings and fertilizes the trees. In mid-June, he starts pruning and trimming the trees, beginning with the pines and then moving on to the spruces and firs.

“They need a trim every year,” he said. “That’s what makes the trees look good, when you do that every year.”

There is a home on the tree farm, as well.

“My husband puts a lot of work into shaping them (and) hand-tagging each year,” Angie Cerqua said.

He doesn’t begin cutting trees until late October. The pines are the first to be chopped.

“It’s a long process, cutting and bailing and getting them out of the field,” he said.

Cerqua said that he does most of the work himself, although sometimes family members will come up to help. When he worked full time for GM, he said that he made a lot of one-day trips up to the tree farm, just to do what he could before he had to get back to work.

“My vacation was working up there and working at the lot,” he said.

The work doesn’t bother him, since his farm is on the smaller side.

“I love the outdoors. Sometimes there’s not too much to do, but I’ll find something. If I wanted to relax, I’d stay down in Clinton Township,” he said.

With so many years selling trees in the same spot, Cerqua said that many of his customers have been coming to him every holiday season for years. Some drive from as far as Algonac, Southfield and Birmingham to get his trees.

The customers are what makes the job fun, he said.

Picking the right tree from among the Fraser firs — the most popular variety — Concolor firs, Black Hill spruces, blue spruces, Scotch pines and white pines that stand in his lot is an art form. He said he asks a lot of questions of his customers, because many aren’t quite sure what they want.

“A lot of times, I tell them exactly what they need. They’ll come back and say, ‘That looks perfect’” in the house, he said. “I like to see people get out of here with a smile on their face.”

Cerqua, 63, said he hopes to keep working on the tree lot for many Christmases to come.

“I like to keep doing it until I can’t do it no more, and hopefully pass it down,” he said. “I’d like for them to keep it going.”

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