Dowagiac tree farm sees business soar amid pandemic

DOWAGIAC — The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has hindered businesses across the state, but for one local Christmas tree farm, business is booming.

Butler Tree Farms, 21515 Crane St., Dowagiac, is coming off one of its busiest Christmas tree opening weekends to date.

“It was crazy,” said owner Sam Butler. “We opened our gates at 10 a.m. and by 11:30 a.m., the parking lots were full, and we had cars lined up and down Crane Street about a quarter mile each way. The gift shop was filled to capacity.”

Butler said more than 17,000 trees are currently planted on the property, which also features a petting zoo, wagon rides and a gift shop in the winter season and offers a pumpkin patch in the fall season. The farm is open 1  to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until Christmas Eve for the winter season.

Visitors can choose from six different types of trees and can cut their own trees or pick from a selection of pre-cut trees.

According to Butler, the revenue generated this year from its fall season and the opening weekend of the winter season has exceeded expectations.

“I thought it was going to crush me,” Butler said. “We don’t open until October, so we were waiting out, watching what the country is doing. I thought I’m going to lose at least 40 percent of my business, but I tripled the business this year. Overall, it’s been a very good season for us. I thought any day I could get a directive that says I can’t operate a Christmas tree farm, but it didn’t happen. The business has been so good that if the government were to shut me down next week, we could survive because we’ve had such a good turnout. I really expected to take a hard hit, and it has ended up being the best year I’ve ever had.”

Butler attributes the increase in revenue to people wanting an outdoor escape from the pandemic and believed his customer base would turn out in support.

“People were so tired just tired of being locked up,” he said. “It’s a place to go outdoors. You’re in the open air, here. I attribute the increase in business to COVID, but when it’s Christmas, they’re coming. They don’t care if they have to wear gas masks or if it’s pouring down rain. When it’s Christmas, they’re gonna spend the money because they want the family experience.”

Since planting his first trees with his wife, Brenda, in 1997, Butler can hardly believe the farm has grown into what it is now.

“I knew nothing about it when I started,” he said. “I knew that when I did retire that I wasn’t going to sit in the house on the couch. I wanted to do something out here. What started out as an operation out of a camper turned into this. I had no idea that it would be a petting zoo, gift shop and bake shop, too.”

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