Return of the bargain Christmas tree - Local holiday tradition resurrected at old Chubby and Tubby store

If you think your life has been a little less full since the Chubby and Tubby stores closed early this year, you ought to talk with Mike DiCecco.

DiCecco, who was the three-store chain's manager, had been with the company since he was a kid.

"I started in December of '73 as a tree lot helper, part time, after school and on weekends," DiCecco said.

When he learned that the store's owners, descendants of the rotund founder, were pulling the plug on the operation, DiCecco set to resurrecting at least a piece of what had been.

Now, after the better part of a year spent trying to cobble together a deal, DiCecco can claim at least a small victory. He'll be selling Christmas trees under the Chubby and Tubby banner at the old Aurora Avenue location, and at a site in the High Top district out by White Center, and at the chain's oldest location, at the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Walden Street. He is bringing back a holiday tradition around here. And maybe, he is hoping, it will be the first step toward bigger things.

"I tried to lease the garden store on Rainier, just to do plants," he said. But he couldn't come to terms with the owners, who now reside in California. With the tree lot deal, though, "I got them to move a little bit," and perhaps, he said, they may be persuaded to move a little more.

The space has been for lease all this time, he said, and he can't think of a better use for it than what it had been since 1947-an anything-but-trendy general store where ordinary people b bought ordinary things, such as work clothes and sneakers, among many, many other offerings. The business model worked well for all those decades, DiCecco said, and he is convinced it could work again.

"If it wasn't profitable, I wouldn't be attempting to do this," he said. "This has been a full-time position, researching this and putting together a business plan. In the last few months, it has taken a lot of work just to put this [tree lot] together."

You won't find those super-cheap Charlie Brown Christmas trees at Chubby and Tubby like you did in years past, DiCecco said, but he'll have some for $8.99 and others for $17.99. Those are still good prices, and DiCecco figures he'll use the public's response as an indication of how strong the demand might be for doing more.

"I'll get a feel for how much loyalty there is out there," he said. "I've got a lot of people who would like to come back. We had a good team."

And maybe his enterprise will capture the attention of like-minded people.

"Maybe somebody with a few bucks will come out of the woodwork," he said. "Crazier things have happened."

From DiCecco's way of seeing things, what ought never happen is to hand over all the business to the big-box retailers.

"Are Wal-Mart and Target the only choices we'll have in 20 years?" he said.

Not if he can help it.

"There is a market for it," he said. "The lawn and garden departments did very well. There were niches we had very good markets for."

It's business, and business has to pencil out. But one senses that for DiCecco Chubby and Tubby was a business and something more. He knows there are plenty of old customers who felt a sort of kinship for the quirky store with the funny name, where it felt OK to part with a piece of your hard-earned paycheck. And he hopes to win them back.

"I don't want to get rich," he said, "I just want to make a living."

Editor Tony Brouner can be reached at

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