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Christmas Tree Sale Thrives Outside of Shut Down Strip Club

Deer Park, Illinois- The Douglas fir trees lean against a wall below the words “Las Vegas Showgirls,” but the strange juxtaposition doesn’t bother George Young, a 24-year-old construction worker-turned-entrepreneur. The novelty of selling Christmas trees on the grounds of a shuttered strip joint hasn’t hurt sales, he said.

“I had a family come with a 6-month-old son,” said Young, who hired a Santa last weekend to entice customers to his unusual tree lot venue in unincorporated Lake County. The family snapped a picture with Santa — and the Vegas marquee. “They wanted the sign in the background,” Young said.

Elsewhere along a highway filled with used car lots and fast-food joints, the irony has not been lost on nearby Christmas tree sellers and potential customers. In fact, it has been a hot topic of conversation.

“We wanted to go there because we thought we’d buy a sleazy tree,” Peggy Shulha said with a laugh, but she decided instead to shop at a competitor’s tree nursery 2 miles from Young’s controversial lot. “It’s pretty funny.”

Until June the nondescript building with the loud purple awning that shouts “DANCERS” at the corner of Lake-Cook Road and Illinois Highway 12 had housed an adults-only club. Judge Margaret Mullen ordered it closed June 28 because owner Michael Christofalos didn’t have a license to operate the venue as an adult business. The judge also ordered closed a second strip club and an adult book store operating without permits in the county.

The strip joint and its small parking lot remained empty — until Young, then living in Michigan, heard about the place from his brother, who lives in north suburban Wonder Lake. Young last year wanted to sell Christmas trees in Michigan, figuring the temporary nature of the job was perfect during the construction and home remodeling off-season, but he couldn’t find an empty lot, he said.

Young contacted Christofalos and discovered the former club owner was willing to rent out the strip club’s parking lot so Young could display more than 250 Christmas trees there. Christofalos also owns an old wooden house next door and is letting Young and his 2-year-old Rottweiler, Zeus, stay there for free.

Young and Zeus moved into the old house the day after Thanksgiving. Young scrawled ‘X-mas Trees For Sale’ in curly red script on two square pieces of wood and nailed them to two telephone poles along the highway. He hung white Christmas lights around the sign nearest the old house and plugged the lights into a long extension cord that led to the house.

Then he borrowed his brother’s black flatbed truck and drove around to check out the competition. Many of their 7-foot trees went for as much as $90, he said; he priced his medium height trees at $55 to $65 and the largest are $80. The smallest go for $25. He estimates he has sold more than 90 trees so far.

“It’s going really well,” Young said.

Customers seem to have a sense of humor about the enterprise.

Jeff Winters, who brought a notebook with him to price compare, joked that he came to the lot in search of strippers instead of trees.

“Maybe kids will come with their parents and say, ‘Daddy, what’s that building?'” Winters said. “Otherwise, it’s a great location. He does have the cheapest trees in the area.”

A man who said his name was Rafael figured Young’s business could go even better if the county allowed the strip club to reopen during tree-selling hours.

“You could really bring in business if you had girls wearing Victoria Secret Santa Claus clothes,” said Rafael, who declined to give his last name, as he thrust a 9-foot Fraser fir in the back of his black Ford F150. “They should open the club back up.”

Young said he was doing just fine without girls in lingerie. He doesn’t even have to stand out in the cold to wait for business, he said. Instead, he whiles away the time playing PlayStation2 in the sparsely furnished house where a giant bag of dog food sits in the kitchen. When Zeus barks, Young peeks out the window to see if a customer has arrived.

“I don’t want to stand out there,” Young said. “Not in this weather.”

He hired a Santa two weekends in a row, he said. The jolly old man was a boon to business. More than 40 families stopped at the lot to have pictures taken of their children on Santa’s lap, though Young admits he studiously pointed the camera away from the marquee, except in the case of the family who requested it appear in the shot.

“I had to run out and buy more Polaroids,” he said.

At a nearby tree nursery, an employee named Alison said everybody at her shop was laughing about the strip-joint tree lot.

“We were all like, ‘Oh, come on family, let’s take the kids to Dancers,'” Alison said, declining to give her last name because she didn’t have permission from her employer to comment on a competitor.

But at the Atrium Garden Center, a tree nursery about 2 miles north of Young’s lot, no one thought the adult club venue was funny, said manager Russell Johnson.

“You have the symbol of family versus the … people who patronize strip joints,” Johnson said, though his real beef appeared to be that temporary tree lots can undercut his sales. “It’s anti-family.”

Still, many families with kids have stopped in to buy trees, particularly when Santa was around, Young said. Few commented on the fact that the place used to be a strip club.

“Almost nobody said anything,” Young said. “It didn’t hurt business.”

Does it bother him that he sells Christmas trees on the lot of a former strip club?

“No, not really,” Young said. “I don’t mind. People don’t seem to mind, and I’m getting paid.”

He might even be back again next year.

“I might,” he said, as he sprinkled rock salt on the asphalt. “I was thinking about it.”


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