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  • 21 Aug 2014

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In Character with Kiley Cronen

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Those aren't horses in Kiley Cronen's Sellwood corral. Cronen sells Christmas trees every year to a flock of regulars.Sellwood resident Kiley Cronen has been selling Christmas trees to his neighborhood for 10 years. When he started, Cronen, who, with his wife, operates a local pre-school center, sold about 290 trees a year. Last year, he sold almost 1,400. This year? Business is off a little, Cronen reports, but should pick up if the rain backs off.

Portland Tribune: How did you get started?

Kiley Cronen: We started it for fun. I had a friend who said, “Hey, you’re good at sales and I’ve got trees. Do you want to do a lot?”

Tribune: Well, no sense in doing a little. Is it still fun?

Cronen: Yes, because of the regular customers. They come in and I see their kids grow up, and if I’m not here in the lot — if I’ve got helpers covering — they won’t buy. I am their expert.

Tribune: Any unexpected requests?

Cronen: I’ve had two customers say, “After I’m done with this tree, can I plant it out in my yard?” I tell them no, because there is no root system anymore. People ask, “Is there a certain tree that the dog might be more prone to pee on?”

Tribune: Are they asking because they want their dog to pee there or they don’t want dog to pee there?

Cronen: They absolutely don’t want the dog to pee on their electric lights. A lot of people talk about critters crawling out of the trees. They ask, “Can you shake it? I don’t want anything crawling out of it at home.” I say, “We shake them at the farm.”

This young guy comes in, he says “I’m going to propose to my girlfriend. Is it OK if I do it here?” He wanted to put the ring in a tree. He said, “I’ll be back in a half hour,” he brings his girlfriend back and they’re looking at a number of trees, and then they go to the tree the ring was in. He had it tied down in there. He turns the tree around and there’s this little gift box and he gets down on one knee in the middle of the corral and says, “Will you marry me?” She said “yes” and we had customers there and everybody started going, “Wooo, wooo.” And I said the tree’s on me as a wedding gift.

Tribune: Any problems tying trees on car roofs?

Cronen: I’ve had people try to haul their trees on their bikes and I’ve seen people crash in the parking lot losing their balance.

One time these two guys came on their bicycles and they put their bikes parallel, they tied the tree on to their back bike racks. They had to ride exactly parallel all the way home. I saw them ride off into the distance and I kept my fingers crossed.

One year this family comes in, they say, “We want your Charlie Brown tree, a tree that’s going to sit here and not sell.”

So I lead him to this area where I had this pretty mangled up Noble. The tip broke on it and it’s got a huge gap. I said, “This tree is going to sit here until we clean up this lot.”

They said, “Perfect.” They were basically wanting to adopt, to rescue the ugly tree from being shredded into chips.

Tribune: Did they get a discount?

Cronen: Nope. They wanted to pay full price.

Tribune: Wait a minute. Nobody wants to pay full price.

Cronen: Well, maybe a family looking for the ugliest tree would.

Tribune: What type of tree does the tree seller have in his own home this year?

Cronen: I have three trees. I have a 5-foot Noble in our bedroom. My son has a 3-foot Nordman and our main tree downstairs is a 7-foot Noble.

Tribune: Why three?

Cronen: Because I can.