Christmas Trees since 1929, when the Bustard Family began selling them in Lansdale, have changed a lot.
In terms of artificial varieties, a company in the 1930s sold a version made of brush bristles. The late 1950s brought the aluminum trees that were central to the plot of TV's A Charlie Brown Christmas. Plastic trees, fiber optic trees and even holographic trees have been produced - and proven popular with some holiday decorators.
But for the Bustards and the 4,000 families that come each year, there's nothing like a real tree.
"The business was started by my great uncle," Jay Bustard remembers. "He established a farm here, but he brought on a couple of sidelines to add revenue. There was a butcher business. And an orchard that he used to make cider that he sold. In 1929 - the farm had passed to my parents by that point - it was Christmas Trees. But, yeah, me and my brother Glenn are fifth generation here."
Live Christmas trees, according to the Bustards, are essentially recession-proof.
"People always buy a Christmas Tree," Jay states. "If times are good, it's a non-issue. If times are tough, they'll still buy a tree."
Glenn completes the thought: "They'll cut something else from the budget... a new string of lights, an extra present somewhere. But never the tree."
Jay drives me to the orchard, near Trooper Road. When we get out, the air is rejuvenating: clean, fresh and hyper-oxygenated.
"People might think this is just a seasonal business," Jay explains. "But it's not. We are always checking growth, pruning trees, composting and planting. The trees that are ready for this year's holiday season were planted in 2008. Those that we're planting now will be ready for the 2023 holidays. It never stops."
Glenn is examining the effects of the biggest threat to the inventory: deer.
"When the fall has been dry like this one, they get hungry and eat the trees," Glenn says. He examines one sapling that has been eaten into a misshapen stick, while the one right next to it is still a viable plant. "I don't know why they prefer one over the other. To the deer, I guess this one was filet mignon and this one was liver," he laughs.
Jay has a more philosophical take: "We use their land; they eat a few of our trees. It's not a bad tradeoff."
Bustards Christmas Trees sells the more popular varieties - Douglas fir, Fraser fir and Blue Spruce - but there are rarer varieties here as well.
"We have Korean fir," Jay points out. "It grows in the mountains of South Korea and has been used to decorate the Korean embassy."
Bustards also sells Concolor fir, Balsam fir, Turkish fir, Nordman fir, Meyer fir (from China) and various hybrids.
"I really like the Nordman firs," Jay says. "I think they're going be the next big thing in Christmas Trees. They have stiff bristles and dark needles. It's a beautiful tree."
The other trend the Bustards see emerging is for a Victorian fir. These stately beauties are not pruned but, rather, are allowed to grow in a more natural state. Their shape is, therefore, somewhat unpredictable, and the branches are "open," which Jay defines as being spacious.
"People who have many large decorations love them," he says.
The quality of the Bustards' stock is so high that one of their stately Fraser firs was chosen as the official White House Christmas Tree for the Obama family. The road to that distinction began with an entry in a statewide competition for trees - something like a dog show. When they won at that level, the competition went national, pitting state against state for a champ.
The Bustards' Douglas fir again went to the top of the list.
A contingent of D.C. dignitaries, including the White House Chief Usher and representatives from the National Park Service, came to the family's Lehighton location (Carbon County) and after hours of debate and evaluation, chose a 19-foor Fraser fir. It will be cut on November 23 and taken to Washington, where it will eventually stand in the Blue Room at the White House.
"The size was important," Jay says. "The ceiling at the White House is 18 feet, so the tree should ideally be at least six inches taller than that to give a little wiggle room for recutting the trunk and accommodating the top. Ours, at 19, was perfect.
"This has to be the greatest accomplishment in our history," he continues. "We will get to formally present the tree to Mrs. Obama and then return to see it decorated an in place. Of all the people who were excited over this, I think my mom topped the list. At 88, she's seen this business through a lot, and she was thrilled."
Bustard's Christmas Trees
2210 Bustard Road
Lansdale, PA 19446
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily.